The year 2015 in Chelsea marked a major change in the landscape of leadership, politics and development. With a long-time city manager graduating to a higher post, a new city manager coming in and six new faces being elected to the City Council – things changed fast in 2015 and are likely to continue doing so in 2016. Likewise, development plans that had been laid out on paper for years began to take shape, and worries of too much success began to creep into the minds of many long-time residents.
It was an eventful year in the City, and one that will likely be marked as a major turning point in the overall history of modern Chelsea.
- City Manager Jay Ash announces he will leave his post and is inaugurated as the new Secretary of Housing and Economic Development in January. Ash had spent 14 years guiding Chelsea for the low places of receivership to the heights of an up-and-coming City next door to Boston before leaving. He had spent several years as a City Planner before taking the city manager post, so his imprint was all over the new Chelsea. His decision to leave marked a major turning point for the City.
- Snowmageddon! The winter of 2015 was relatively mild until Juno the Blizzard hit on the last weekend in January. Little did we know what we had before us. Consecutive blizzards throughout February and snow events into March ended up dumping more than 108 inches of snow on Chelsea in a six-week period – breaking the record for snowfall in a season. Snow removal equipment was taxed, local businesses were cripples from the 10-foot snowbanks that eliminated parking and customers, and the National Guard was finally called in to help remove snow from fire hydrants in Chelsea. It was the worst winter that most anyone could remember.
- City Manager Tom Ambrosino takes his post on July 20 as the third city manager in Chelsea following receivership in the 1990s. After a process that began in December and lasted throughout the spring (though it was delayed significantly due to snow issues), the City Council was presented with two names in May – one being Ambrosino and the other being Mark Rees of Maine. After a series of interviews and public input sessions, the Council votes on June 8 to install Ambrosino in an 8-3 vote.
- The Silver Line Gateway project in Chelsea began in the spring and took up its work quickly – though mostly out of sight. Crews cleared a path along the rail bed from Eastern Avenue to Everett Avenue. The most obvious sign of construction came with the 18-month closure of the Washington Avenue Bridge on May 26. The Bridge remained closed all year and likely will continue that way into 2016.
- Chelsea Clock wraps up operations and moves its final pieces of heavy machinery from its Everett Avenue headquarters in early May after building quality clocks there for 117 years. The company opened up for business that same month in a newly-renovated headquarters on Second Street. A grand opening was held in the summer, with Gov. Charlie Baker cutting the ribbon.
- Juan Vega, long-time CEO of Centro Latino, stepped down from his position in late June to take a position in former City Manager Jay Ash’s office at the State House. Later in the summer, on Sept. 21, the Centro Latino organization closes suddenly and shocks many in the community after board members say they just couldn’t make it work any longer financially.
- One wing of the old Chelsea High School (now the Clark Avenue Middle School) is demolished in July as construction on the new Clark Avenue School begins. The school project will be done in phases, with the other wing of the old high school coming down in the summer of 2016. The new school is to open in its entirety in 2018. Still, the demolition of the first wing brings about fond memories from old time Chelsea folks who once roamed the hallways of the old school.
8.On Sept. 12, thousands of gallons of water were let loose from a standpipe in a stairwell on the sixth floor of the 11-story Broadway Glen high-rise apartment building on Broadway. Fire crews battle to shut down the water and evacuate the building before electrical problems injured occupants. In the weeks and months after, residents on the lower floors had to live in hotel rooms as the renovations slogged on week after week in the gut-rehab operation. In late October, a suspect in the malicious flooding was arrested, Enrique Velasquez, of Chelsea. Resident are still returning to their apartments as the new year rolled around.
- Six new members were elected to the Chelsea City Council in the November City Election, sparking a wave of change that began in April when concerned resident Damali Vidot began attending Council meetings and soon called for a ballot question that would return a mayoral form of government to the City. Later, she dropped the mayoral request and decided to run for office, sparking interest and enthusiasm from many newcomers and those who sought to return to public service. At the end of Election Night, there were six new faces ready to take their seats – all of whom are Latino.
- Starting with Brian Hatleberg early in the year, and ending with several surprising defeats in the November City Election, several veteran City Councillors bowed out of public service in December. Veteran councillors like Hatleberg, Paula Barton, Calvin Brown – as well as incumbents Joe Perlatonda, Chris Cataldo and Clifford Cunningham – bid adieu to the Council Chambers after many years.
- Five Chelsea firefighters win state Valor awards in November for acts of bravery in fighting Chelsea fires over the year in a state ceremony at MIT. The Chelsea jakes receive more awards than any other department in the state. Earlier in the year, in September, Police Officer Paul McCarthy received the top state award for bravery (Hanna Award) from Gov. Charlie Baker for his actions in saving a jumper on the Tobin Bridge in Aug. 2014.
- A young man suffered serious head injuries in May when a large tree inexplicably and suddenly fell on him while he played in Washington Park. There were no warnings and the boy was hospitalized, but did recover in time after much treatment and therapy. Washington Park remained closed for a good part of the summer as other trees were inspected for similar damage.
- The Chelsea Licensing Board marked the year with a clamping down on several problem restaurant/bars throughout the city after criminal activity and neighborhood complaints demand action. The Board closed down Las Palmas in April and suspended Plaza Mexico for six months in June. Acapulco Restaurant and Las Papusas Restaurants are penalized as well in October.
- The FBI Building on Everett Avenue begins major work in January and proceeds quietly and somewhat secretly for most of the year – with the structure emerging in the fall as the tallest building in the City. In December, government officials announce that the building is 60 percent completed and on schedule for occupancy in August 2016.
- Plans are unveiled for 455 units of housing on Vale Street in the spring – a project that is across the street from Chelsea High School and calls for the demolition of the old Chelsea Clock building. Later, the project is withdrawn and replaced with a proposal for 692 units of housing in two large buildings. It is approved amidst controversy by City boards in the fall.
Others We Can’t Forget:
- The Chelsea Bank and East Cambridge Savings Bank (ECSB) concluded an historic merger in the first part of the year. Chelsea Bank becomes a division of ECSB and the branch on Broadway remains intact with Joe Vinard still overseeing the operation.
- The TownePlace Suites on Central Avenue opens up on March 6. It is the first new hotel in the Chelsea hotel boom that is located on the eastern side of the city. The hotel gets its first sellout on March 15 and never looks back after that.
- The 222-unit second phase of One North begins one year ahead of schedule in April due to the overwhelming success of the first phase. The new units in phase 2 are expected to be available in April 2016.