Nearly a decade after UMass Boston picked up the 20-acre lot home to the former Bayside Expo Center, the revitalization of the Columbia Point property has never been closer.
This month, after an agreement was announced in February, UMass finalized the deal for a 99-year, $235 million lease with developer Accordia Partners and its financing partner, Ares Management Corp., propelling the redevelopment process into the planning stage.
While a vision for the proposed project is not quite in focus yet, Accordia — a partnership between veteran Boston developers Kirk Sykes and Dick Galvin — sees prime opportunity for a 3.4 million-square-foot, mixed-use development with housing, retail, and office space.
In a statement, Andrew Holm, partner in Ares Real Estate Group, called the project “transformational for the university and surrounding community.”
“We are excited to have reached this important milestone, which will allow us to begin the next phase and launch a process for listening to the many voices interested in these projects, including neighbors, the community, and the students, faculty, and staff at UMass Boston,” Sykes and Galvin said the July 2 statement.
For UMass, the project will breathe new life into a parcel whose future has been long speculated on since the school acquired it in 2010.
The deal also brings in new cash for the debt-saddled institution, needed especially for the upkeep of a crumbling campus parking garage. The revenue could also help pave the way for a new nursing school facility.
“The Bayside development is a game-changer for our students and faculty,” Katherine Newman, UMass Boston interim chancellor, said in a press release.
Here’s what we know about the redevelopment of the site so far:
In the late 1960s, a shopping mall at the Bayside site had a brief run for a couple of years before closing in the early 1970s.
In its place rose the Expo Center, which in its heyday brought in clients like the New England Flower Show, aside from countless other big events, before competition from other venues and a sluggish economy hit the business in the late 2000s, according to The Dorchester Reporter.
UMass picked up the property on its front lawn in 2010, purchasing it for $18.7 million from LNR Partners Inc., which had bought it at a foreclosure auction the year before.
The university demolished the center, then used the site as a parking lot for its student body.
In 2015, the site garnered interest from Boston 2024, the organizing committee of the now-scrapped effort to bring the Olympics to town, as a potential location for an athlete’s village.
Later, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and New England Revolution, was reportedly in talks with the school to build a stadium there for the soccer team.
Later that year, the school put it on the market, showcasing it as a prime spot for a mixed-use development.
In February, UMass announced it selected Accordia Partners as its developer for a 99-year lease from out of a total of six bids.
“It wasn’t close,” Rob Griffin, head of capital markets at Newmark Knight Frank, the real estate firm that brokered the sale, told The Boston Globe at the time.
A main factor that caught UMass’ attention was that Accordia, along with Ares Management, offered to pay $192 million, the bulk of the deal, once its plans got the necessary sign-offs from city and state officials.
Together, Sykes and Galvin, who teamed up to form Accordia in 2014, have a combined 60 years of experience in the Boston market.
Sykes, the former board chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, is the senior vice president at New Boston Real Estate Investment Fund and also led its Urban Strategy America Fund, L.P. He was a codeveloper of the Crosstown Center hotel complex in Roxbury.
In a press release, Accordia Partners representatives said the company was formed with “the intent of pursuing large, complex, urban real estate development projects.”
“A core component of Accordia’s mission is to leverage the scale of these urban projects in order to increase the level of inclusion and diversity within the real estate, design, and construction industries,” the release says.
What will the project look like?
In short, there’s no definitive answer.
Both Galvin and Sykes said the next step in the process is to get feedback from the community before a plan for the site is formalized.
“A robust community engagement process is critical first step in creating a dynamic new gateway to the entire peninsula and increase connectivity between the UMass Boston campus, the surrounding communities, the MBTA’s JFK/UMass Station and the Boston HarborWalk,” Galvin and Sykes said in a statement. “We look forward to engaging with the community and determining how the project can create shared benefits.”
The property has attracted talk from others in the market that it could house part of the region’s booming life science industry, including from Newman, who told Bisnow in February: “We’re very eager to see research-oriented companies come in and also build up academic programs (at UMass Boston) to lean in their direction. One could imagine many different scenarios.”
According to UMass, the tenants and uses will eventually be up to the developer to decide.
What is known at the moment, however, is that Accordia is eyeing a mixed-use complex with park space that is equal parts office buildings, shops, and housing, according to the Globe.
“It’s 20 acres, on the water, next to this fantastic research university, next to a T stop,” Galvin said in February. “That’s a fantastic real estate development opportunity.”
In February, a small group of UMass Boston faculty and staff members criticized the selection process as secretive, adding that the school was getting rid of land that it could use, among other concerns, the Globe reports.
Some said the money from the deal should go toward paying off the school’s longstanding debt. School officials, in announcing the finalized agreement through a statement earlier this month, said revenue from the project can go toward only qualified capital projects, since UMass bought the property through tax-exempt bonds.
Developers say they expect to have all of their needed approvals in hand in the next two years.
Sykes and Galvin have said they will put $25 million toward upgrading off-site transportation and will also build a project that can withstand the projected rising sea levels.
“This agreement moves us one giant step closer to bringing new private sector research partners, internship providers, and job opportunities in construction, retail and services to Columbia Point,” Newman said in a statement last week. “We eagerly await the next milestones and look forward to collaborating closely with Accordia Partners on campus, community and business engagement.”