January 12, 2017
As we reported last week, the Walsh administration intends to follow through this year on the mayor’s promise to launch a planning initiative aimed at the long-term redevelopment of Glover’s Corner. The mayor announced the idea last January and, a year later, the Boston Planning and Redevelopment Agency (BPDA) is gearing up to start, possibly next month.
This is a worthwhile endeavor, one that we have called for repeatedly in this space. But there is a more pressing planning need in Dorchester at the moment. And if we have to make a choice, it’s a no brainer.
The city desperately needs to get a handle on what’s happening right now on Columbia Point.
There is a growing consensus among civic leaders and elected officials that the peninsula is on the verge of massive, uncoordinated change, with powerful interests converging on this one section of the city all at once.
It should not be this chaotic. A master plan for Columbia Point exists, but it was published in 2011 by the BPDA in concert with citizens who met for three years as part of a highly focused task force. The plan still has its merits, but it needs to be dusted off, updated, and re-published, and that is what the city’s planning agency should be doing right now.
Consider the myriad forces at work today:
• Pro sports mogul Robert Kraft is angling with UMass to build a 20,000 seat soccer/concert stadium at the old Bayside Expo site.
• The 17-acre Boston Globe campus is likely to be sold in the coming weeks.
• The hulking Santander Bank property at 2 Morrissey Blvd. has been offered for redevelopment in a confidential Request for Proposals issued in late 2016.
• The state’s Dept. of Conservation and Recreation is planning a $40 million reconstruction of Morrissey Boulevard that engineers expect will take 8-10 years to complete.
• Approved plans to build new housing and hotel rooms along Mt. Vernon Street are effectively in limbo due to a land-use dispute between UMass and the Corcoran-Jennison Companies;
• A Boston Teachers Union plan to build a new headquarters on its current site— also in limbo due to UMass’s mystery plans for Bayside— is now being pursued by the Kraft empire for its stadium idea;
• Car dealer Herb Chambers is still floating an unpopular plan to build a huge luxury car dealership right next to the Globe property.
And, of course, UMass Boston continues to build out its campus at an unprecedented rate, with the first ever student dorms on the campus now under construction. More are planned in the next decade.
Columbia Point needs a strong hand from city government right now to put some order to competing interests and, critically, to re-engage the public—especially the nearby Dorchester and South Boston communities— in best uses.
Mayor Walsh and his team don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. It’s time to reconvene a Columbia Point Task Force and then put it to work to solicit public input into all of these projects— land use and infrastructure alike— with a fast-track agenda to revise the now-aging master plan document.
Simultaneously, the University of Massachusetts and its building authority should heed calls to put the brakes on any unilateral deal with Kraft at the UMass Boston Bayside campus. Whether or not a sports/concert stadium is an appropriate use at the Bayside is a question for another day.
For now, it should be clear to all parties that it is inappropriate for a single private business interest— Mr. Kraft— to get special access and assistance from city and state government for his for-profit enterprise. UMass should politely extricate itself from any deal-making talks with Kraft and offer the public a clear statement of the preferred re-use of the Bayside property.
Clearly, this site is a tremendous opportunity for UMass Boston’s campus to grow and improve its connections to Dorchester and South Boston. But the best way forward is for the university to open up a transparent process to seek bids from a wide range of potential private developers who can team with UMass to realize Bayside’s full potential.