On Edge:Businesses at Breaking Point Amidst Casino, Road Construction

December 7, 2018
By

Rob DeFronzo grew up down the Line, and while the casino project has changed everything about his childhood neighborhood there, it’s not nostalgia that has him at the end of his rope these days.

After 18 years in business on Rover Street in the Lower Broadway neighborhood, DeFronzo said it’s the crazy construction schedule and the unkept promises that has him on the edge of going out of business this holiday season in his own childhood home. This week the situation was made worse when, with only hours’ notice, Encore Boston Harbor road construction crews suddenly announced they were closing off Robin and Dexter Streets to try to get road reconstruction and paving work done during the last window of mild temperatures and dry conditions this year.

It was work that, until last Wednesday, wasn’t supposed to be done until the spring time. However, with a window of opportunity, Encore and the City agreed to give it a shot, and business owners found out on Thursday afternoon that their street would be closed for eight days starting at 5 a.m. Friday.

“That is just a small piece of it; it’s just one of the many things they lied to us about,” said DeFronzo of Pro Auto and Truck. “I go to the traffic meetings they have every month and they say they will do this and they will do that and they never follow through. I’m ready to go out of business. I’ve been here since 2000 and never had to say I’m hurting until now. My business is down 75 or 80 percent. I’m not taking a paycheck so I can pay my employees. We tell them what’s going on and they tell us to see the mayor. The mayor says to see the casino, and so nobody wants to take responsibility for it. We get brushed aside. No attorney will take on the casino for us. I’m literally hanging by a thread and my business has never suffered in 18 years. Customers call me all the time now to say they’ve been waiting in traffic for an hour, and they can’t get to the shop. They end up going somewhere else.”

For Mike Bono of Bono Trucking, he faces a similar crunch. Having a six-vehicle trucking company, he said that he often needs parts to repair his trucks. In year’s past, it was easy enough to get a delivery, but now no part company will come down to Lower Broadway because of all the closures and congestion. If they do come, they charge he and DeFronzo up to $75 per delivery – an added cost they cannot make up.

“My problems have been ongoing for months,” Bono said. “I go to the traffic meetings and most of the time the City representative isn’t there. There are a lot of us hurting down here and it seems no one cares. All the focus is getting the casino open so they can make their billions. Meanwhile, they’re putting people out of business here.”

DeFronzo, Bono and others in Lower Broadway have faced months of heavy road construction by Encore Boston Harbor as they have ratcheted up efforts to get the area ready for its June 2019 opening. However, at the same time, a surprise eight-month re-build of the Alford Street Bridge hit in October, bringing that stretch down to one lane. Additionally, EverSource had a major electrical line project on Robin and Dexter Streets all summer – a project that ran late and held up Encore’s efforts.

That was the background behind the last-minute decision last week to close Dexter and Robin Streets for eight days on only a few hours’ notice.

Encore Spokesman Greg John said they had hoped to be done with the Dexter-Robin truck route months ago, but were held up by the EverSource project, which ran months over the schedule. The latest plan was to finish the truck route in the spring, but John said a window opened up for about eight days to get the work done now.

And they took it.

“It was a matter of good weather that came up in the forecast,” he said. “We haven’t had four days without rain since September. That’s a record. They saw an opportunity and with a forecast of warmer and dry weather ahead, they wanted to get a jump on it. We routinely send out alerts to the Island End Group. I sent them three alerts last week…I know it’s unfortunate, but it’s one of the things where the work has to be done and we’d like to get it done sooner than later. We want to minimize the impacts to businesses and residents and we’re doing what we can to mitigate that…We’re really trying to minimize how much we do next spring and get as much done as we can before it gets cold…We thought December would be a good time to get it done. December is usually slow.”

City DPW Director Greg St. Louis said they do apologize for the short notice, and will do better next time. He said they have been pro-active in talking to businesses about the work going on, and he encouraged them to be in close contact with City officials when they encounter problems.

“Certainly we apologize for the late notice and have tried to update the residents, businesses and public on a number these concerns from the beginning,” he said, noting that they began thinking about moving forward on Wednesday. “There are a number of projects happening simultaneously in this corridor and those need to be done so we aren’t digging up streets that were just paved…We had the opportunity to re-build a large section of Robin Street to reconstruct and pave the roadway and we wanted to take that opportunity to help residents and businesses to get this done this fall rather than wait four to six months to get it done.”

He said the asphalt plants guaranteed they would stay open, and the weather was clear for the duration.

At Schnitzer steel – a company on the roadway that depends on truck access to its Rover Street plant – the notice was very short and very costly.

“Anyone down here doing any kind of commerce is being impacted by it,” said spokesman Collin Kelly. “Sometimes I wonder if just too many things are going on…This (sudden) closure has affected us and it is short-notice. It is what it is and we’re trying to work within it, but we’re affected. When you have truck issues and people want deliveries, it has the outcome of economic impacts. There was no lead time here. In fact, we were at a meeting (on traffic) Monday and they said they weren’t supposed to be doing this until the spring. Then on Thursday we learn the street is going to be shut down Friday morning for eight days. At the end of the day, we can look at it a lot of different ways. If we had known in advance would it have changed the outcome?…When you shut down a street eight days, it’s shut down. This morning (Dec. 3), it’s been like the wild, wild West down here.”

Councilor Fred Capone, who represents the area, said the overall impacts – and particularly the short-notice closure this week – are unacceptable.

“You just can’t show up and say, ‘Ok, you’re out of luck for the next several days,’” he said. “I don’t care if you’re the biggest player at the table; the community is bigger than one company and one activity. We can’t change the past, but going forward everyone has to do a much better job. You can’t just do this kind of thing at the drop of a hat. If the administration dropped the ball, they have to do better. If it’s one company that ran over the administration, shame on that company and on the administration for not standing up for everyone else…If you don’t provide that notice, you shouldn’t do that work.”

Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who represents the other side of Lower Broadway, said there has to be better communication.

“In 2011, I first ran for public office for better communication between parties,” he said. “That promise has never changed. Although I fully and proudly support Encore Boston Harbor, I will never lose sight of all the other businesses and residents in the Lower Broadway area or Everett as a whole. It alarms me beyond measure hearing that other businesses that are the backbone of this community for many of years are being impacted in a negative way. I have two questions that I can’t seem to get straight answers on. Who knew what and when? And, what, if any, thought was giving to local business in the area?”

Those are the questions that DeFronzo said he often asks himself as he sees customer appointments fizzle away, and his lot becoming less occupied.

“On Friday, they put up jersey barriers, not even just barricades, and they closed down the street,” he said. “If I go there, they’ll let me through because they know me, but they tell the customers that the street is closed. That means they have to go all the way to the McDonald’s and back around. The customers get frustrated and they leave…I’m not against the casino; I’m for it, but there has to be room for everyone.”

 

Councilor Capone says residents should be compensated for closures

Councilor Fred Capone said in light of the short-notice closures that affected so many Lower Broadway businesses, he believes that compensation for them is something that should be discussed.

He said it’s only natural that if one company closes a street to do its work, and that negatively affects other businesses on the street, then some sort of arrangement has to be considered.

“With a business, you’re interfering with the operations and if you cost them money because of the work you’re doing, you need to step up and make people whole,” he said. “If it costs businesses money, they have to be considered. The people have to come first.”

Mike Bono of Bono Trucking on Lower Broadway said he agrees. He said when businesses are impacted severely, such as during the Big Dig many years ago, some were considered financially or in-kind.

“I absolutely think that’s appropriate,” he said. “They should compensate us. I’ve been going to the traffic meetings and I’ve stated my concerns.”