A Look Back at the Highs and Lows of 2013: There Have Been Many Cheers and a Few Tears in Chelsea This past Year

Movie crews from 'The Equalizer' have been filming steadily for nearly two weeks (in July) in the front of the Chelsea Floor Covering building on Everett Avenue and Chestnut Street. Prior to stars like Denzel Washington arriving, carpenters and painters busied themselves in creating the meticulously-designed cafe called the 'Bridge Coffee Shop - Since 1954.'

Movie crews from ‘The Equalizer’ have been filming steadily
for nearly two weeks (in July) in the front of the Chelsea
Floor Covering building on Everett Avenue and Chestnut
Street. Prior to stars like Denzel Washington arriving,
carpenters and painters busied themselves in creating the
meticulously-designed cafe called the ‘Bridge Coffee Shop –
Since 1954.’


Chelsea was abuzz while two of Hollywood’s biggest were in town to film their latest movies. Downtown, Denzel Washington was in and out of Chelsea Floor Covering, which had been transformed into the Bridge Coffee Shop for his movie: The Equalizer. John Travolta filmed his movie, The Forger, at various locations in Chelsea. The biggest local star sighting may have been on stage in Washington, DC, though, when Amber Rodriguez, a senior at Chelsea High School, accepted a National Arts and Humanities Youth Award from First Lady Michelle Obama.


Big celebrations continued to show civic pride and attract hundreds of locals and out-of-towners. The Chelsea Art Walk and the Taste of Chelsea have become iconic local events, the latter of which attracted Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker. National Nite Out and the Back to School Celebration continued their run of successful community happenings. Chelsea Winter Fest was moved indoors to avoid a storm, but the spirit of the season was felt nonetheless. Most inspiring may have been the All-Chelsea Awards, which featured the stories of 11 people recognized for their substantial contributions to the betterment of Chelsea.


Communities typically cheer a bond rating increase; Chelsea had the unusual, yet welcomed, reason to cheer for two increases this past year. Standard & Poor’s elevated the City rating first to AA- and then to AA on the basis of continuing strong financial and managerial performance. The City also received an award for its audit report from the Government Finance Officers Association of North America. Perhaps the three awards provided the basis for City Manager Jay Ash to receive a performance review of “excellent” from the City Council in December.


Bellingham Square was the center point of an extended undercover operation that culminated this past summer with the arrest of 48 people and a noticeable difference in the look and feel of Chelsea’s hub thereafter. While the police deserve kudos for its work on that operation and many others, the City also unveiled a public health strategy to combat drugs locally. A partnership with MGH has resulted in a community substance abuse manager being hired, who has been coordinating programming to help individuals and families address drugs and to make local neighborhoods and the entire community safer and healthier.


Just hours after topping the ticket in the local municipal election, Councillor Calvin Brown was arrested in a domestic dispute. Police responded and placed the popular local elected official under arrest, in what was described as a “standard procedure” for anyone involved in such a dispute. That case was dismissed with no findings by the court in December. Brown and his colleagues, all of whom were re-elected, are scheduled to be sworn in on Jan. 6th for a new term.


It seemed like every month another State grant was being announced for Chelsea. Projects like park renovations, housing developments and roadway improvements were being trumpeted by Chelsea’s very effective legislative delegation of Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Representatives Eugene O’Flaherty and Kathi-Anne Reinstein and awarded by the Patrick Administration. In addition to Gov. Deval Patrick making several stops in Chelsea, his top secretaries representing economic development and housing, the environment and transportation visited sites and lauded legislators and City Manager Ash for their efforts. The biggest grants were funding for a veterans housing project at the old American Legion Hall on Shurtleff Street, a Greenway to travel along the abandoned rail line behind the Box District, and roadway improvements on Spruce Street supporting the One North of Boston residential development.


Development continued at a record pace in 2013, with approved projects moving Ash’s total project value to an eye-popping $1 billion since he became involved in the City’s economic development agenda. This past year, two more hotels, a TownePlace Suites for Central and Eastern Avenues, and a Holiday Inn for Beech and Carter Streets, were permitted. The Holiday Inn will also feature a full function hall, which will give local organizations and people the opportunity to once again celebrate major community events in the community. Perhaps the most anticipated project, the FBI regional headquarters, got the go-ahead from the City’s land use boards to be built on the site of a former junkyard and blighted industrial buildings on Everett Avenue. The start of all of those projects are pending, while the 230-unit, market-rate, rental housing development, One North of Boston, broke and has risen from the ground on Sixth Street.


Chelsea’s School Department passed numerous tests with flying colors. Chelsea High School’s two top students matriculated to Yale and Harvard Universities; several teachers won awards including the Yale Teacher of the Year Award, and the entire school system was recognized as the AP School System of the Year by the prestigious College Board. With the enrollment in Chelsea’s well-recognized schools continuing to increase, initial plans to renovate or build a new Clark Avenue Middle School were approved by the State. Once a final design is completed and approved, that potentially $50 million project could cost the local budget as much as $15-$20 million.


Crime continued to dominate local news this past year. Although major crime is down a reported 25 percent for the year, five homicides did occur. Police have arrests in four of those murders, and are pursuing leads on the fifth. In order to continue to push crime rates down, City Manager Ash, City Council President Dan Cortell and Police Chief Brian Kyes have advanced a 10-point plan, which, if approved by the Council, could add another $1 million in spending and increase the already largest police force in the city’s history by five more officers. Among the initiatives Kyes credits with driving the crime rate down is a new unit of five undercover officers who work nights and interrupt violence and other mayhem before it can happen.  Ash also cited the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, a State-sponsored program with local matching funds that is administered with Roca to intervene in the lives of young men, ages 17-24, who have a history of violence in their past.


Among the hundreds who passed away in 2013, several who served the City were mourned by the entire community. Two public safety officials, Deputy Fire Chief Charles Crowley and Chelsea Police Officer John Gravallese, and a long-time school employee and Chelsea Record columnist, Arnie Goodman, all died from illnesses. Former School Committeewoman Lydia Walata passed, as did her husband and long-time funeral director, Walter Walata, a week later. Former City Councillor Marie Jeffrey also died. Two of the biggest funerals in recent times took place this past year as well, both involving All-Chelsea Awards Lifetime Achievement awardees. Former School Committeeman Morrie Segal, who served the Chelsea Schools in that capacity and as a teacher and administrator and was a veteran of World War II, had his life celebrated at a ceremony at Temple Emanuel. Former School Committeeman and Alderman Richard Clayman, who was perhaps the city’s most celebrated attorney, was also memorialized at Temple Emanuel, although hundreds of well-wishers were unable to get into the standing room only tribute to him inside the city’s largest temple.


City advocates and officials scored what was thought to be an impossibility: stopping scores of train cars loaded with millions of gallons of Ethanol from rolling through the city weekly, and potentially causing a major disaster. The proponent, Global Oil, had planned to transport Ethanol by train through dozens of Massachusetts communities via the commuter rail tracks to its Revere facility. A grassroots coalition, led by the Chelsea Green Space Committee and local environmental justice champion, Roseann Bongiovanni, successfully joined forces with City Manager Ash, Chelsea’s legislative delegation and others across the state to force Global to withdraw its proposal.


The case that thrust national attention on housing authorities and pay levels of those heading them concluded with former Chelsea Housing Authority Executive Director Michael McLaughlin being sentenced to three-years in prison. The disgraced McLaughlin plead guilty to four felonies for underreporting income that he had manipulated to grow to $360,000 annually. Judge Douglas Woodlock, in light of McLaughlin’s egregious actions, increased the sentence above the 18-months prosecutors had recommended. McLaughlin’s legal woes continued as he was indicted for campaign fundraising violations, a case that is still pending, and also for allegedly fixing apartment inspections with former federal housing officials.


Gov. Patrick informed a crowd of more than 200 in the packed lobby of the Central Avenue Garage that the MBTA’s Silver Line would be coming to Chelsea. The Silver Line Gateway will feature articulated buses and connect four stops in Chelsea with the Airport Station on the Blue Line, and several stops in Boston’s Seaport District, including South Station. The Silver Line Gateway is going through design, prior to the start of construction. The service will begin in late 2016, and will also cause the relocation of the current commuter rail service to the Mystic Mall, where the Silver Line will terminate. When both operate there, Chelsea will be the only community outside of Boston to have direct public transportation service to both South and North Station. Patrick was joined by Sen. DiDomenico, Reps. O’Flaherty and Reinstein, and City Manager Ash for the announcement. Ash, who had been working on a version of the Silver Line for 17 years, called the $80 million project a “game-changer” for Chelsea.

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