Editorial: It's time to think big on Bayside end game

The team that will lead the redevelopment of the former Bayside Expo grounds on Columbia Point has begun a goodwill tour of civic groups in the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s early, but so far the Accordia Partners group seems to have grasped the importance of engaging first with stakeholders and neighbors before drafting up a detailed plan in their own bubble.

That’s good news.

Accordia, led by partners Richard Galvin and Kirk Sykes, won out in a very competitive process to lease the 20-acre waterfront property for 99 years. The site is owned by the UMass Building Authority, which acquired the site for $18.7 million back in 2010.

Documents gleaned from a records request this summer confirmed that the university could get anywhere from $192.5 million to $235 million in a lump sum payment for the lease. The variation is linked to how much building space is eventually permitted by the city and state, but even if it’s closer to the low end, the payout will be a windfall for the university system, which has pledged to direct the largesse to the Dorchester campus. (UMass Boston will also get other perks, such as having the first crack at leasing back part of the new space.)

What’s in it for everyone else? Plenty.

The new neighborhood that will likely emerge from what is now a desolate stretch of asphalt – including the old footprint of the expo center that is fenced-off – should include a mix of uses for both the public and the university. Housing, retail, restaurants, coffee shops, office space etc. — many of them oriented to the Harborwalk that runs along the shoreline— are all possibilities. The infusion of activity and amenities are sorely needed in this section of Dorchester, which has largely been bereft of new businesses, unless they came in the form of on-campus outlets mainly operated with students in mind.

When UMass set out to market this site two years ago, the university’s marketing materials conjured up images of a Harvard Square-style community, a gateway to a gleaming new urban campus. And, indeed, this Bayside site can and should serve as a proper “front-door” for the campus itself.

But, it should also function as an extension of the neighborhoods that straddle its borders— Dorchester and South Boston.

Unlocking that potential will require a new frame for thinking about mobility in this part of the city. Accordia Partners has pledged $25 million as a “first step” toward leveraging other private or public funds for modernization of the nearby road and transit system. Accordia, which also controls the Santander campus at the intersection of Morrissey Blvd. and Mt. Vernon Street, has an opportunity to be the biggest change agent on the block here.

Dorchester and South Boston neighbors should play a role, too, in helping to steer the conversation. Accordia is planning a pair of public “visioning” meetings to begin that process. The first will be held on Sat., Oct. 26 at the Boston Teachers Union Hall adjacent to the old Bayside lot.

“The first step is engaging in the conversation and hearing your concerns, ideas for what will make the project work. You all live here and you know best,” Galvin told a gathering of civic activists in Columbia-Savin Hill last week.

That’s a welcome tone.

You have to go back to the 1960s – when the public university was originally sited on Columbia Point on what was then a trash-strewn peninsula – to find a such a momentous opportunity for reimagining our community. The city of Boston has a grand vision for stitching Moakley Park and Carson Beach into a single waterfront destination. The Bayside parcel— and the Santander site across the street— should complement that plan.

It’s time to think big and the Bayside redevelopment is the right vehicle. We hope our neighbors will join us in the effort.

– Bill Forry