From enlivening the downtown like never before to approving key projects like the Innes Public Housing redevelopment, the City embarked on a new era in 2019. While there continued to be more participation from long-time residents in the City, there were also new faces on the Council and School Committee, and a new superintendent picked to lead the schools.
•The Superintendent Search Committee and the search process are ironed out in January with the Collins Center of UMass-Boston. This School Committee will be the first in decades to choose its own candidate as it would be the first leader to be chosen since Boston University turned the schools back over to the city. In April, three candidates are submitted to the School Committee, which conducts several public interviews of the three candidates. On May 9, The School Committee votes to pick Almi Abeyta as the new superintendent. Abeyta did not get the vote on the first go-around, but ended up with unanimous support. Supt. Abeyta spends most of the fall shadowing outgoing Supt. Mary Bourque, and then takes the reins full-time in late December.
•Chelsea Prospers, the Chamber of Commerce and the City combine with major steps forward in livening up the downtown corridor. The ambitious Night Market project throughout the summer on Luther Place proves to be a welcome addition to the community, as was the Pupusa Fiesta in April and Fiesta Verano in June. The effort also gets a victory in securing new regulations for signage in the downtown district by the Council over the summer, and also in the revival of Chelsea Day. The success is capped off by the largest tree lighting ceremony on Chelsea Square in years.
•Chelsea High Junior Stephanie Simon becomes a national champion at the indoor and outdoor meets for track and field in 2019 – the first in decades to do so. She also received numerous state and conference honors along the way. Her key events are the long jump and triple jump – though she is also a very capable sprinter and hurdler.
•After four years and two major re-designs, the Zoning Board in March approved plans for Forbes Park to be re-developed into a 500-unit mixed-use development on the former Forbes Lithographic site in Mill Hill. The development had once come in with 21-story skyscrapers, hotels and lots of retail. One key amenity for the community is a waterfront walkway around the development along Mill Creek.
•School Committeeman Julio Hernandez resigns suddenly in March despite being a rising star on the board. He cites family and financial considerations primarily, but also says he is frustrated by the lack of attendance by some members of the Committee. In April, Chair Rich Maronski also resigns from the Committee amidst frustrations that members are not attending meetings. He leaves shortly after voting for the new superintendent candidate. Later in the year, just before the City Election, Committeeman Frank DePatto announces he will not run again for his at-large seat – leaving yet another vacancy on the challenged board.
•In May, the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board awards a $32.3 million contract for construction of a new commuter rail station in Chelsea – to be located adjacent to the Market Basket Silver Line Station. Later in the fall, the MBTA and Gov. Charlie Baker held a groundbreaking for the project. The new station will have all the amenities and will be accessible, unlike the current station on Arlington Street. The new station is to be completed by 2021.
•The new Chelsea Stadium is completed at the end of the school year, and the first games for soccer and football are played on the brand-new surface in the fall of 2019. There are high reviews for the field, the new track and other amenities at the Stadium, including the bright red ‘C’ in the middle of the field.
•After years of discussion, the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home water tower – which became an iconic symbol of the city known to many for miles around – is demolished on May 29. After a fun ceremony earlier in the year, demolition crews took about three-quarters of a day to bring down the old tower. The tower had to come down to make way for the new community living center at the Soldiers’ Home, a $199 million upgrade to Quigley Memorial Hospital. That project began in January of 2019, and will continue through 2020.
•In May, the Class of 2019 enjoyed the fruits of a hard-fought civic battle to get their graduation ceremonies returned to the outdoors on the new stadium surface. The battle was courtesy of a core group of seniors who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer – advocating with the leaders of the school system and appearing at Council meetings as well. In the end, the City invested in a covering surface to allow the graduation to be outside, accommodating many more family members and friends to see the ceremonies. The outdoor exercises went off without a hitch on a beautiful June afternoon.
•Encore Boston Harbor Opening – The opening of the Encore Boston Harbor took place on June 23 to great pomp and circumstance on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning. However, the opening locally started in February when Encore began holding its first massive job fairs in Boston’s Hynes Convention Center. Thousands were hired between February and May, with most reporting for their first day of work in early June. The excitement continued to build as the Encore Runner shuttles started to appear on the streets of Chelsea, followed by Encore buses coming and going from the Malden Center and Wellington T Stops.
On June 23, with Encore luxury yachts bringing visitors to the front door by water, and shuttles bringing visitors to the resort from public transportation hubs – dignitaries from the City, state and Wynn Resorts were on hand to welcome everyone inside. The doors opened as unique day-light fireworks exploded overhead in the cobalt blue sky, and ‘Nothing But the Best’ by Frank Sinatra played over the outdoor loudspeakers.
•Encore Post-Opening – If the build-up and opening of the casino was a major story of the year, a close second was the casino after its opening. While many – for years – predicted monstrous traffic jams daily at all hours caused by the casino, that just never appeared. After hundreds of hours of preparing for the worst, the worst never came. Still, traffic is very light at the resort in most hours – aside from a few busy periods. It was the surprise of all surprises for most. That surprise was followed up by the soft performance of the resort’s restaurants, hotel and retail offerings – which were expected to set a new standard for performance and quality in Greater Boston. While the casino portion of the resort has performed ahead of many other casinos around the United States, the hotel and restaurants – in particular – still seem to struggle to attract guests consistently. A new, surprise change in the leadership team last fall came without great notice, putting out long-time President Bob DeSalvio. That change is still unfolding, and it’s clear the resort is still testing the waters on how to brand and become Boston’s resort of choice. On the plus side, though, Encore quickly became a destination for boxing events, unique celebrity concerts and world-class nightclub DJs – such as Shaquille O’Neal, who highlighted the opening of the Memoire Nightclub on the property.
•Chelsea Cable Director Duke Bradley passes away on Aug. 12 after a sudden illness. Bradley had been the director of Chelsea Cable for years and was everywhere, all the time in Chelsea. He was known as a gentleman and a family man to everyone. He was a life-long resident of Chelsea, and many say the city lost an “icon” when he passed.
•Not everyone’s favorite topic, but certainly one that gained attention, was the Council’s approval of residents being able to keep chickens on their properties. Such approval of farm animals like chickens was previously only available with a permit from the Health Department. Now, residents are able to keep two hens by right – but no roosters. Some on the Council felt it was a waste of time.
•Housing Court expands to Chelsea District Court on Sept. 30 after years of fighting for the specialized court to come to Chelsea. The expanded court holds sessions every Monday for residents, landlords and the City to take advantage of.
•In a sudden announcement in late September, Mystic Brewery founder Bryan Greenhagen reports he will close the popular brewery in Chelsea on Sept. 27. It was one of the first breweries in what became a very popular endeavor for local beer drinkers. For Chelsea residents, the brewery had become more than just a place where beer was brewed. It had been a gathering place for the Chel-Yea group monthly, and a place for political times and social gatherings also.
•The Landmark Student Opportunity Act – After being championed for years by State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, the “fix” to the educational funding system in Massachusetts finally became law in late November. DiDomenico said they got “everything they wanted” and that the bill will begin to change the landscape of education in urban communities like Chelsea, Everett and Boston. It is to be phased in over seven years, starting in the upcoming State Budget cycle. Supt. Mary Bourque said the money coming in will be used by the new school leaders to restore cuts made over the last few years, and then to fund dreams they had deferred.
•The City Election brought a few surprises and three new faces to the Council. Victories included Challenger Melinda Vega Maldonado beating Councillor Luis Tejada, and Challenger Naomi Zabot beating Councillor Joe Perlatonda. Meanwhile, in an open seat battle, Todd Taylor prevails in District 1 over Rick Pantano. The new Council will take their seats on Jan. 6 in a swearing in ceremony. However, they will not have yet chosen a Council President, as the body was deadlocked over the leadership vote in a December meeting.
•After a year of meetings, some changes to parking and timeline, the Innes Apartments (Central Avenue) redevelopment project clears hurdle after hurdle along the way over the year 2019. From Zoning Board, to Planning Board to the City Council, the project wins over those concerned by density and parking. In late December, a critical tax break from the City prevailed in a 9-0 vote, which was the final obstacle in getting the project done on paper. The development is a partnership between the Chelsea Housing Authority and the Corcoran Companies and will re-build 96 units of public housing alongside several hundred market rate units.