For decades, residents and city officials lamented over the inability to secure the type of economic development that Chelsea’s locational advantage (vis-à-vis Downtown Boston, Logan Airport and Cambridge) should have been delivering.
Just minutes from each, with tremendous connections via the metropolitan highway system, the city’s ideal location, yet poor economic development record, seemed to reflect the attitude investors, and others, had about Chelsea. If that was true then, the experience over the last 15 years would seem to indicate something very different.
“Yes, we’ve had a great run,” said City Manager Jay Ash, who has been at the helm of the City’s economic development efforts over the last 17 years. “We’ve been able to secure more than two-dozen major projects and we’re coming up on nearly $1 billion in new investment. It’s really rewarding to see how the development community, in fact, how all those observing Chelsea are now reacting to the place the rest of us always knew was special.”’
That special place to which Ash refers is his native Chelsea, and this week he is celebrating last week’s approval by the Planning Board and Tuesday’s approval by the ZBA of petitions to build two new hotels by the owners and operators of the Residence Inn. With the ZBA’s unanimous ‘yes’ votes on Tuesday for a 140-room TownePlace Suites by Marriott on Central Avenue and a 152-room Holiday Inn on Beech Street, those two projects are moving towards construction in the early fall. When they both open next summer, Chelsea will have a total of 580 hotel rooms available in the city. Ash calls that a “significant statement about what the lodging industry says about Chelsea,” and further suggests that is but one of many milestones now meriting a new recognition for the city.
“I’ve held off saying this, but it’s time: we’ve arrived,” he stated emphatically. “Four major hotels, five significant residential developments, two great shopping centers – including the best supermarket in the country – expanding food and other industries, and the beginning of permitting for the FBI building later this month, they all indicate that the investment community recognizes what we have here in Chelsea. Standard & Poor’s recognizes it with their upgrading of our bond rating. The people who are moving here or deciding to spend their lodging dollars here recognize it. It’s time that the rest of us who labored through some pretty tough times here in the 1980s and 1990s recognize it too: those bad old days are gone forever, and the new Chelsea has firmly taken over.”
Ash said he had a laundry list of people to thank, from the ZBA and Economic Development boards locally to the State Delegation on Beacon Hill and to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C.
To his later point, Ash spoke at the EPA’s national conference last week about developing partnerships to produce local results.
“I know we still have issues to overcome, but we can’t let them weigh down the realization that we’ve achieved all that we have,” he said. “Our success should, in fact, indicate that we can be equal to any and all challenges. Some take longer than others to overcome, for sure, but when you start thinking about the fact that we’ve attracted something like $1 billion in investment here, when you look at us being able to create an entirely new neighborhood, keep the same ethanol that is rolling through hundreds of other communities out of Chelsea, build nine new parks in places that were already built out decades ago, send our kids off to Ivy League schools and turn around the first fiscal collapse the country saw since the Great Depression into another bond rating increase, at some point the mounting evidence says it all.”
Back to the approved hotels, Ash said each of them is requiring extraordinary efforts to get built.
“First, we have a terrific development team partner,” he said. “The combination of Mark Stebbins, Leo Xerras and Christine Thomas believe in Chelsea as much as I do, so their commitment to invest in now three major hotels is inspiring.”
The two newest hotels have the types of development challenges that often have people overlooking urban communities like Chelsea. The Holiday Inn is being developed on highly contaminated land, and that’s where the EPA, and the State’s DEP and MassDevelopment, have help in providing funds to clean the land so it can produce development. On Central Avenue, NSTAR continues to be a valued team member, as well, helping the City by acting quickly to move overhead power lines that otherwise would threaten the development there.
“Both of those hurdles will be overcome, and, as a result, we’ll be adding $40 million in investment, which will translate into more than $1 million in annual tax revenues and nearly 100 local jobs,” said Ash. “As exciting as the Holiday Inn will be on its own, it will also adding a first class function hall so we’ll never have to go outside of the community to celebrate our community ever again.”
Thomas, from the development team of which Ash praised, had her own take on Chelsea.
“I’m doing development throughout North America and I can tell you that many are asking me about all that you have going on in Chelsea,” she said. “There’s no place we’d rather be. The entire development process has been firm, but very fair, and Jay and his team have figured out how to want everything for Chelsea and still help us get everything we need. It’s evident with all that is going on here that he and they are doing that over and over again on so many community improvements. Chelsea’s best days are here, and they keep getting better. We’re so happy to be part of them.”