Chelsea residents got an up-close look last Thursday at the proposed entertainment complex that includes a Caesars Entertainment casino at Suffolk Downs.
Chip Tuttle, Chief Operating Officer of Suffolk Downs, and his team, including former Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans, accepted an invitation from City Manager Jay Ash to participate in his Occasional Forum for Public Input.
“Suffolk Downs and Chelsea have always had a close relationship. It’s important for me to be here and discuss how that relationship will strengthen if we get the go-ahead to build our $1 billion entertainment complex,” Tuttle told the crowd of more than 60 residents who attended the two-hour event at the Senior Center.
Tuttle reviewed design elements and cited a variety of figures relating to the proposed development, including 2,500 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs, with those 4,000 permanent jobs averaging $42,000 a year and generating about $168 million in annual payroll. Much of the discussion and follow-up questions centered upon infrastructure needs of the proposed Route 1A complex on the Boston and Revere line.
“I just don’t think you’re spending enough,” said Councillor Dan Cortell, in response to Tuttle’s description of $40 million being pledged for regional improvements, including two new signalized intersections servicing Route 1 from Revere Beach Parkway in Chelsea.
Others shared similar concerns.
“We’re proposing a significant amount of work, much more than any other developer might contemplate there and not asking the State for a dime to do it,” noted Tuttle, who was also responding to a statement from local resident, Mimi Rancatore, who said she did not want to see any State money spent on infrastructure.
“In fact the law actually prohibits the State from spending money on infrastructure,” informed Tuttle.
The meeting was conducted by the Chelsea Planning Board, which is serving in an advisory capacity on the subject of community impacts and benefits to Ash.
Ash explained to the audience that he asked the Planning Board to so serve and has asked the City Council to appoint a Councillor to assist on negotiations with Suffolk. The Council did appoint Councillor Matt Frank to work with Ash on securing a “surrounding community” agreement between the parties.
Ash, who has been a key champion of expanded gaming in Massachusetts for five years, further explained the difference between being a host community, surrounding community and all other communities.
“A host community is the actual home of the complex. We are not that. But, we are considered the next level, a surrounding community, and with that the law requires us to have a mitigation agreement with Suffolk. Although the City Charter authorizes me to negotiate and sign contracts, I am taking the added step of committing that whatever Councillor Frank and I negotiate I will present to the Council for its approval as well,” pledged Ash.
Ash reviewed a list of issues he has been examining. He asked attendees for their priorities, as he did in earlier meeting with the business community and with leaders of community-based organizations.
“I’ve been at this for a long-time and feel I have a very extensive list of items to discuss, from infrastructure to public safety to housing to social service needs, but I don’t want to presuppose that I know everything. So, I’ve been asking everyone for input, and have place a survey online for others to consider and send to me,” Ash said following the meeting.
The survey can be found at www.chelseama.gov. Ash and the Planning Board will discuss the issues heard and their own feelings about mitigation at a meeting on Aug. 7th. Ash sees the mitigation agreement as two-fold.
“One, we’ll try to address the negatives that could come our way, from more traffic to increased gambling addiction. We’ll also consider the benefits as well, like hundreds of jobs for Chelsea residents and vendor relationships that could bring millions of dollars of additional purchases to local businesses,” said Ash.
“I’m appreciative of all that has been shared, and believe both the Planning Board and the City Council have a great deal of insight. We’re making sure this process is transparent so that everyone can see how we are approaching what we believe are the most important issues and why the agreement will end up the way it will,” said Ash.