Convention Center Authority Rejects Seaport Proposal For 'False Pretenses'

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — The state's independent convention center authority canceled and rejected controversial redevelopment proposals for a piece of land in South Boston after officials accused it of using "false pretenses" to craft the plans.

The mostly unbuilt 6.2 acres of asphalt along D and E Streets, across the street from the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, were taken by eminent domain in 2012 and 2013 to expand the convention center industry in the area.

After the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority solicited development proposals to build commercial and industrial buildings, MCCA offices, and community-based spaces such as day care centers on the land, Southie politicians Sen. Nick Collins, Boston City Council President Ed Flynn and City Councilor At-Large Michael Flaherty objected to the agency's plan, denouncing it as an "unusual and uncompetitive process."

The MCCA board of directors voted Thursday morning to cancel the request for development proposals, and rejected the two proposed plans it had received from developers. A notice of the cancellation says the authority rejected the proposals and canceled the pending solicitation as "it has determined it is in the best interest of the Authority."

The authority is still planning to develop the land, however, and will issue an "Amended and Restated" request for development proposals on June 12, with a 90-day -- rather than 30-day -- period for developers to submit plans by Sept. 12.

"This vote by the board was an important step toward a more fair, transparent and inclusive bidding process," Administration and Finance Secretary Matt Gorzkowicz said in a statement. "I'm encouraged that the MCCA listened to the concerns raised by the community and other stakeholders regarding the previous process and has started down a path that has the potential to produce the greatest value to taxpayers and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, while respecting the circumstances through which this land was acquired."

MCCA Executive Director David Gibbons said in a statement that the decision was "based on input received by several constituencies."

"Notice of the RFP cancellation has been posted publicly, and a period of community outreach will take place in consultation with the BPDA, prior to the issuance of an Amended and Restated RFP. Proposals for the revised RFP will be due ninety (90) days from the issuance of the RFP. Based on this timeline, it is expected that a developer will be selected sometime in the Fall of 2023," Gibbons said.

The rejected proposals include a plan submitted by Boston Global Investors to build three mixed-use commercial buildings that would include ground-floor retail, a grocery store, a green roof for public gathering and urban agriculture, parking spaces and over 40,000 square feet of public open space.

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Cronin Development also proposed building three mixed-use buildings on the three land parcels. They planned a gallery focused on Black and brown artists, a performance and lecture space, life sciences labs, an open market area with food vendors, full-service grocery store and a parking garage.

Both proposals also included 50,000 square feet of office space for the MCCA.

More than a decade after it took control of the properties, the MCCA opened a 30-day bidding period for the land on the week of Thanksgiving, resulting in only two bidders, according to the letter Collins, Flynn and Flaherty wrote. Gorzkowicz also expressed concerns about the process of soliciting development proposals.

"These assets were taken by eminent domain for a particular purpose that is not being executed with an open-ended bid offering," Collins, Flynn and Flaherty wrote to the MCCA board of directors in February. "This has given rise to the concern about the MCCA land banking under false pretenses."

Collins said the plans do not reflect the purpose for which the land was taken in 2012, which combined with the 30-day period for development proposals raised concerns. He said he believed the properties were intended for, and should still be used for, mid-priced hotels to make BCEC more competitive for mid-priced conventions, rather than just luxury events.

The South Boston Democrat chairs the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, which oversees matters concerning competitive bidding on public contracts as well as open meeting law concerns.

"The MCCA's use of eminent domain must be reviewed and resolved. Only at that point can a legitimate public engagement process begin to inform us of the best use of these public assets. The Committee will be examining all of these matters this session, particularly as we look at public bidding and public construction," Collins said on Monday.

The State and Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee is not the only state entity looking into the MCCA's practices. State Auditor Diana DiZoglio launched a probe in March of the convention center authority examining allegations of racism in hiring, promotions and procurement practices, The Boston Globe reported.

"Previous audits revealed that the MCCA did not document an assessment of performance before renewing contracts," DiZoglio said in a statement about the auditor's office's investigation into the authority. "It is under our office's purview that the MCCA's awarding of state contracts comply with state law. Once the work of our current audit is complete, the results will be made public."

Written by Sam Drysdale/SHNS.

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