By Seth Daniel
The year of 2016 saw great excitement and great disappointment in Chelsea – from the hopeful inauguration in January of six new councillors to the shocking shooting death of Pablo Villeda and six others in March to the opening of the iconic new FBI building on Everett Avenue. It was, no doubt, an eventful year and one in which Chelsea residents saw a more civically active community poised for an exciting future.
- It was standing room only for the inauguration of the new City Council on Jan. 4. Six new councillors took their places, with a majority Latino Council for the first time ever. Though it was a milestone, it didn’t figure much into the policies debated in the Chambers throughout the year.
- The state and federal law enforcement authorities dismantle three major gangs that have wreaked havoc in Chelsea for several years with stabbings, murders, robberies and drug dealing. The first raid comes in late January when federal agents round up more than 60 purported members of the MS-13 gang in Chelsea, Eastie and Everett. In June, the Feds and State officials – with the Chelsea Police – clamp down on the East Side Money Gang and the 18th Street Gang in raids that take more than 30 dangerous – and very young – gang members off the streets.
- New Fire Chief Len Albanese took his post on March 4. After an exhaustive review, City Manager Tom Ambrosino chooses the Rhode Island product over an in-house candidate. Though tensions were present at the beginning, Albanese settles into his position quickly.
- Chelsea GreenRoots spins off from the Chelsea Collaborative under the leadership of Roseanne Bongiovanni and Maria Belen Power in July. The two say they still have a great relationship with the Collaborative, but wanted to focus more on environmental issues – as they did with Chelsea GreenSpace before. The new organization quickly gathers momentum and locates in an office on Chelsea Creek.
- The March 6 murder of Pablo Villeda and the shooting of six others allegedly by a Chelsea teen at an early-morning teen party in a vacant Washington Avenue home shocks the city. City leaders, officials and residents respond with a heart-wrenching vigil march on March 9 through the city. The criminal case against those allegedly involved is still working its way through the court system.
- The FBI building on Everett Avenue opens on Nov. 7 after three years of construction and nearly 10 years of planning and legal fighting by Chelsea developer ACS Development. The building quickly becomes an icon for the city and ready-made status. Also, economic development opportunities spring up quickly for surrounding businesses.
- Gov. Charlie Baker signs a law allowing Chelsea to enact up to a 35 percent owner occupant residential property tax exemption in August. City leaders debate the merits of the newfound benefit for taxpayers and agree to institute a 25 percent exemption this year, with more of an exemption coming incrementally over three years. The measure is the culmination of several years of fighting for the effort, says Councillor Roy Avellaneda.
- Officials from CAPIC and City Navigators report early successes in March with the new wrap-around, service on demand program offered to those in Bellingham Square suffering from addiction and homelessness. In just a few months, they report having contact with 77 individuals and getting services for 15. Anecdotal evidence is that there has been a difference in those who linger in the Square.
- The Chelsea Housing Authority announces it will pursue state funding to begin planning for a mixed-income redevelopment of the Innes/Central Avenue Housing Development. In July, CHA Director Al Ewing announces that they have chosen Corcoran Jennison/SunCal as their development partner were anything to go forward. Later, quite surprisingly, the CHA receives a $700,000 state planning grant. Residents, Corcoran and the CHA begin planning exercises in October, with another meeting in December. More is expected to come in the new year, including a definitive announcement of whether the project will move forward.
- The Washington Avenue Bridge opens to all traffic on Sept. 14 after being closed for reconstruction over a 14-month period. The bridge project comes in early, and is the first milestone in the huge Silver Line Gateway project. Construction work has progressed all year on the project, though it’s often out of sight of residents.
- The Riseman Family Theatre opens within the Apollinaire Theatre Complex in Chelsea Square on Oct. 20. The Family Theatre is part of a major project at Apollinaire that also includes a Black Box Theatre space for rent and numerous youth programs in the Family Theatre. The project is a major step towards the City establishing a Cultural District in the area.
- An infestation of flies causes Chelsea High to end classes seven days early before Winter Break in December. The situation ends up being broken pipes under the building, which are repaired over the break.
- Chelsea voters overwhelmingly approve the Community Preservation Act, 66-34 percent, in the November General Election. City officials use the remaining months of the year scrambling to craft the new measure in order to put it into place at the earliest opportunity in 2017.
- One North Phase 2 wraps up construction and begins leasing in April, building on the success of its first building next to Rt. 1. Developers say they have refined their concept and tailored it more to their key demographic, Millennials in their 20s and early 30s.
- The Leonard Florence Center for Living (LFCFL) expands its ALS Green House concept on a $17.5 million gift from an anonymous New York family. The LFCFL immediately begins accepting new patients from its waiting list.
- In his State of the City, City Manager Tom Ambrosino proclaims it is time to invest in Chelsea. His plans include major investments in the downtown business district, unheard of investments in infrastructure through the Capital Improvement Plan and the calling for a Recreation Department. Councillors and residents in the standing-room-only Council Chambers applaud his call vigorously.