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$1b remake of Bayside proposed

Residential, retail use eyed

The owner of the Bayside Exposition Center in Boston yesterday proposed replacing the facility with a $1 billion residential, retail, and office development that would create a new waterfront neighborhood on Dorchester Bay.

Corcoran Jennison Cos. said the redevelopment is prompted by the rapid decline of the Expo center's core business of weekend trade shows, which are relocating to the much larger Boston Convention and Exposition Center less than 4 miles away.

The 30-acre site, which includes the Expo Center, hotel, and office building, occupies a valuable perch. It has its own landscaped waterfront, and is along the city's Harborwalk and is adjacent to a public beach. It is across the street from an MBTA subway and commuter rail stop and is positioned along major roads.

"As they say, God's not making any more land and he's certainly not making any more at the ocean, with Red Line access. That's as good as it gets," said J. P. Plunkett, a senior director who handles commercial real estate deals on the South Shore for broker Cushman & Wakefield's Boston office.

The development team said plans are preliminary, but the general scope would include neighborhood-level retail shops and restaurants, anchored by a supermarket, organized around a main street and large public space near the center of the parcel, such as a village square or promenade. Additional office and hotel space would be added to the front of the property.

To the rear, facing the water, would be an array of midrise residential units. Corcoran Jennison officials said they do not have a figure on housing units, but the number could range from 500 to 1,000, depending on which kind of demographic they would market to: families or young professionals, for example.

The neighboring Harbor Point apartments, a mixed-income complex that Corcoran Jennison helps manage, has 1,283.

Orlando Perilla, an 11-year Harbor Point resident who also runs the apartment complex's community task force, said his group has been briefed on the plans several times and is pleased with what it heard.

"I think it's a terrific idea that's going to totally revitalize this area," he said. "The Bayside is just an eyesore. Basically, what they're coming up with is tremendous."

The redevelopment plan does not include a building on the Bayside parcel owned and occupied by the Boston Teachers Union, which didn't return a call seeking comment yesterday.

Corcoran Jennison officials yesterday said they expect to file detailed building plans to city and state agencies by September, and could be ready to begin construction in two years. The project would be done in phases and is expected to take six to 10 years to complete.

"We're at the very beginning of this process," said Richard Heapes, a partner at Street-Works LLC, a White Plains, N.Y., firm that is Corcoran Jennison's consultant. "We wanted to see whether we are just out on Mars with this, does it resonate with anyone out there or should we just stop right here."

Heapes and other members of the development team yesterday met with local officials and neighborhood and business groups to brief them on the proposal. Several interviewed afterward were positive, but identified major issues likely to surface during the public review of the project.

"The big three are traffic, density, and height. That's something that they need to be ever so aware of," said City Council President Maureen Feeney , whose Dorchester district includes the Bayside parcel.

The roads in front of the Bayside are often traffic-snarled during morning and afternoon commutes, and adding hundreds if not thousands of new residents, shoppers, and workers to the daily mix could worsen congestion.

Heapes said the team is considering several measures to alleviate traffic problems, and is also working on designing a safer way for pedestrians to cross to the JFK-UMass rail and bus station.

Feeney said developers would also have to address concerns about building heights, as well as the growing concentration of housing in that area. Corcoran Jennison recently built an apartment building farther down Mt. Vernon, with a second one in the works, and leaders at the University of Massachusetts at Boston also want to build dorms on the campus at the end of the peninsula.

Still, she and others seemed ready to embrace the Bayside proposal in its current form. Feeney noted it is one of several underway or proposed for Dorchester.

"It's pretty exciting that so many good things are happening that could turn around some parts of Dorchester that have been blighted for so long," she said.

A UMass-Boston spokesman said he was unaware of the plan and that officials could not be reached yesterday because of commencement exercises.

The Expo property borders South Boston, where the Corcoran Jennison proposal also received a generally positive reception.

State Representative Brian Wallace , a South Boston Democrat who was also briefed yesterday, said he was impressed by the preliminary plans, but added that he expects months of community meetings before any work is done.

"They've got a long way to go. When we had the convention center, we had a hundred meetings over here," said Wallace.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino , who was briefed on the project several times, was unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

But the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which would review and vote on the Bayside proposal when it is submitted, yesterday lauded it in a statement.

"The Bayside Expo Center land has the potential to be an incredible redevelopment opportunity for Dorchester and the entire Boston community," the BRA said.

Keith Reed can be reached at reed@globe.com.

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