The City’s response to concerns around parking ahead of the Encore casino’s imminent opening left some councilors visibly flustered at the Monday’s meeting – saying the City should be better prepared to protect neighborhoods adjacent to Lower Broadway.
Councilor Michael McLaughlin had presented a resolution asking that the DeMaria administration outline its plan to prevent casino visitors from flooding the residential streets in Wards 1 and 6. The major concern was the potential for out-of-town people to park along residential streets and either walk or take a cab/Uber down to the casino.
The casino is slated to open on June 23.
The mayor’s Chief of Staff Kevin O’Donnell, Everett Police Sergeant Joe Gaff and the City’s Transportation Planner Jay Monty spoke to McLaughlin’s concerns.
O’Donnell responded first, saying they’d been working with City agencies to come up with some measures, such as enforced one-way parking, 24/7 parking zones for residents only and a free shuttle service to and from the casino.
“We have nothing set in stone because we still want to talk to the residents,” he said.
“We’re going to have a Traffic Commission meeting [in May] inviting people from Ward 1 and Ward 6.”
Sergeant Gaff said that they hoped to have the new traffic and parking plans in place by June 1, three weeks shy of the casino’s grand opening.
“It will give us time to get the signs up and everybody notified,” he said, adding that prior to the opening he’d like to have a presentation for the Council detailing the transportation plan.
Monty passed out color copies of an aerial map outlining existing parking restrictions.
“Certainly any person can come in on Broadway or Main Street, park and hop on a bus down to the casino,” he said. “We are getting a consultant on board to look at [this].”
“Why are you going to park in that area and walk to the casino when you can get the free shuttle?” added Sergeant Gaff.
“We don’t really know exactly what’s going to happen,” said Monty. “But we want to have all the information so if there’s an issue come opening day, we have all the tools to address it quickly.”
Sergeant Gaff acknowledged that they still have to analyze how casino traffic could impact the access to downtown businesses that require parking spaces to survive.
McLaughlin was “in awe” of what he felt was halfhearted response to the incoming deluge of out-of-town vehicles, saying the plan should have been put in place three years ago.
Councilor Napolitano agreed, saying that the City had focused more on preparation than actual implementation, and that there wasn’t enough time to educate the public on the processes of parking and accessing the casino.
“The idea that natural boundaries of the city are going to be respected is nuts,” he said. “You can ditch your car [downtown] and get to the casino on the cost of a bus ticket.
“This is a wave,” he added. “They’re going to park on Revere Street, School Street, they’re going to branch out into the city.”
In response, Monty said they didn’t “want to act too soon or be too draconian.”
Napolitano said that coming up with a solution within three months was unrealistic “unless someone’s praying for a delay in the opening.”
Councilor Wayne Matewsky said he was excited for the grand opening, but also emphasized that Encore should “have to make it easier on the host community.”
“I hope that you can make signs quickly,” he said. “I’m hoping for the best.”
McLaughlin unfortunately didn’t get the reassurance he had been looking for, he said.
“I think we are in for a rude awakening on June 23,” he said. “Get your bicycles out.”
Councilors also seemed to agree that the parking situation for the casino was only one example of the City’s larger parking issues.
“This is bigger than just the casino,” said Councilor Rosa DiFlorio. “The city is growing. We have to grow with the city.”