Local electeds have blasted the Walsh administration’s “behind-closed-door discussion” with UMass officials and New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft, over plans to build a soccer stadium on the former site of the Bayside Expo Center in Dorchester’s Columbia Point.
State Sen. Linda Darcena Forry, whose district includes the proposed stadium site, issued a scathing press release last week, criticized all parties for excluding abutters and community members from the conversation.
“Dorchester residents deserve a transparent process. This is not good business and not good government,” Forry said in a statement. “Acting in secret and without bringing members of the community and their elected representatives to the table, until backroom deals come to light through stories in the media, is wholly unacceptable.”
The 10-acre site is comprised of the Bayside parcel, which UMass purchased out of foreclosure, as well as the aging headquarters of the Boston Teachers Union, whose price for relocation, which would include a new facility, was reportedly too steep for Kraft according to Globe columnist Shirley Leung.
Because UMass is unencumbered by both the state’s open bidding law and the need for zoning approvals from the Boston Planning and Development Agency, negotiations over Kraft’s soccer stadium have been able to proceed without much noise—or competition. Leung’s January 11 column, which detailed efforts by both the Walsh administration and UMass to pry the BTU from the site, came as a surprise to some community leaders.
“This is against the public’s interests. I am a true believer in public and private partnerships, but I am also a strong advocate for transparent government and process,” Forry said. “State agencies acting with impunity, handpicking a singular entity to develop a public site is wrong. I expect the University of Massachusetts, our public university, to open up the process to members of the Dorchester community and have an open bidding process for this development.”
In an interview with the Bay State Banner, City Councillor-at-Large Annissa Essaibi-George, a former member of the Columbia Point Task Force, said the community’s plans for the Bayside site—developed over the course of a four-year process—included “housing, mixed-use commercial-residential, walking ways, bikeways, [and] eyesight lines to the harbor,” but no soccer stadium.
“A thorough community review involving all stakeholders is necessary to ensure that this valuable public asset is developed responsibly to maximize economic and social benefits,” South Boston Rep. Nick Collins said in a statement. “We have one shot to get this right and we need to have an open, public process that considers what’s best for UMass, the neighbors and area businesses and the city of Boston. I stand with my fellow elected leaders in calling for transparency and thoughtful planning as we consider next steps.”
A Walsh spokesperson told the Banner that the mayor was not personally involved in any negotiations with the BTU’s relocation with regard to the soccer stadium. In a statement, UMass spokesperson Jeff Cournoyer maintained the system’s transparency, and said its plans for the parcel were not yet solid enough to show lawmakers.
“The University of Massachusetts has been transparent regarding the status of a prospective development of the Bayside parcel, including in meetings and discussions with elected officials representing the Boston campus and its surrounding neighborhoods both individually and collectively as recently as Tuesday, Jan. 3,” Cournoyer said.
“While we are exploring the feasibility of a development that could generate revenue for the campus, scholarship funding for its students and unlock needed transportation infrastructure improvements in the area, for reasons including those reported we do not currently have a firm proposal to present to legislators or anyone else.”
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