There were few years that were more anticipated in Everett than 2019.
So many things were on the calendar – particularly the long-awaited opening of the Encore Boston Harbor casino resort in June – and even more things found their way onto the calendar unexpectedly. There were elections, court hearings, a special coming-together of the community for one man (Brandon Conde), and the first of many payments to the City from the casino.
There’s no doubt, 2019 was a year that changed the landscape of Everett, but certainly it was changed in a way that few considered on Jan. 1, 2019. Here’s to a healthy 2020, and a fun look back at stories of the past year.
•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 Everett, followed by Encore buses coming and going from the Malden Center and Wellington T stops. With the once-industrial wasteland now the well-landscaped front of the resort, the transformation of Lower Broadway forever began to set in during the early parts of June.
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 – dignitaries from the City, state and Wynn Resorts were on hand to welcome everyone inside. As an honor, the first members of the general public coming in were the dedicated supporters from Everett United. 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 the biggest 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. A final positive were the two quarterly payments of $6.8 million made to the City of Everett per its host community agreement – money that will change the City Budget forever.
•Wynn Resorts Trial – Though it seems like an eternity ago, great doubt as to the opening of Encore Boston Harbor prevailed at the outset of last year and into the spring months. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) was reviewing the company to find whether it was “suitable” to retain its license and open the nearly-completed resort casino in Everett. Everything remained in the balance until a whirlwind week of hearings in April at the South Boston Convention Center where all eyes were on Wynn Resort executives and the MGC Commissioners. In the end, the Commission found the company to be at great fault in a number of ways, but not enough to cause them to lose their license. The company was fined $35 million for their negligence, and Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox was fined $500,000 and ordered to undergo executive training classes. The company paid up quickly and did not appeal the decision.
•Fred Foresteire Charged – In February, former Supt. Fred Foresteire was charged with seven crimes in Malden District Court related to the alleged sexual misconduct while he was superintendent. Though he had retired in late 2018, the criminal case ate up most of the year as he was arraigned in late April, and the case continues to be ongoing right now. He pleaded not guilty to all seven charges during his arraignment.
•The City Election – In November, a new order on the City Council and the School Committee was unveiled during a surprising vote that propelled first-time Council candidate Gerly Adrien to the top of the at-large ticket. Her surprise finish outdid long-time ticket topper Councilor Wayne Matewsky by one vote, and also ended the run of Council President Rich Dell Isola – who finished without a seat on the Council that night. Added to that was the sudden retirement of Councilor Leo McKinnon in July, and the open seat left by Councilor Steve Simonelli, and that meant two more new faces on the Council for 2020. Councilor Jimmy Tri Li and Stephanie Simon joined Adrien as new faces on the Council. Meanwhile, Councilor Michael McLaughlin defended his seat easily, and Councilor Fred Capone garnered more than 3,000 votes while unopposed in his ward.
On the School Committee, there had nary been a change to the membership in years. However, Committeeman Lester MacLaughlin agreed to retire, and Committeeman Bernie D’Onofrio was found unqualified for the ballot when candidate David Lindsey successfully challenged his signatures. Joining the incumbents on the Committee were Committeewomen Cynthia Sarnie, Samantha Lambert and Dana Murray – who surprisingly beat longtime Committeeman Dave Ela.
•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 Everett, Chelsea and Boston. It is to be phased in over seven years, starting in the upcoming State Budget cycle.
•Crimson Tide Controversy – Head Football Coach Theluxon Pierre takes the rare stance of criticizing the referees following an overtime playoff loss to the Central Catholic Raiders in November. His criticism was well-received considering the referees gave Central Catholic an extra fifth down late in the game, and also called Quarterback Duke Doherty short of the goal line on the last play of the game in overtime. Many, including Pierre, contended that Doherty scored on the play and the official botched yet another call.
•Development Continues – The Pioneer luxury apartment complex opens in May on the Parkway while numerous other developments continue to come into the City. Last fall, Lennar Companies proposed a major development for Norman Street, while the Market Forge property on the Parkway brought in a major California developer looking to transform that vacant site. In November, Boston’s The Davis Companies reveals that it has bought the Boston Market Terminal to develop into a major distribution center of some kind, and The 600 apartment complex got initial approvals from the City in its quest to make the Broadway hill into a new living community. Development is expected to continue throughout 2020 with more projects coming into Everett to supply the growing residential population.
•Blue Bikes to Everett – the popular Blue Bike docked bike rental service expands to Everett on June 17 prior to the opening of the Encore Casino. The Blue Bike service is immediately a popular choice as the stations expand across the City’s neighborhoods. City officials report that from June 17 to Sept. 1, there were more than 4,000 Blue Bike rides taken in Everett.
•Transportation Revolution – Mayor Carlo DeMaria uses the opening of Encore and other major events in the latter part of 2019 to champion the idea of Gold Standard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). While Everett had been a leader in bus lanes and other BRT innovations, the mayor pledged to make the best BRT system available in Everett, and even stretching into Boston. In the fall, he lauds a major victory as Boston Mayor Martin Walsh agrees to get on board the Gold Standard BRT innovation by including it in major rehabilitation plans for Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square in Charlestown.
•The Malden River is Clean – In March, long-awaited sediment samples from the Malden River were found to be mostly clean, and that the River was safe for recreational boating. That was a major revelation for a Riverway that most had been ordered to stay away from for generations. In July, the Mystic River was given an ‘A’ rating for water quality by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – further cementing the movement in Everett to make its waterways an amenity, and not a deficiency – for residents.
•Pope John High School Closes – On May 23, Pope John awarded 92 seniors the last diplomas ever for the high school. With a $1.3 million shortfall, a last minute effort to close the gap and keep the school open falls short. In May, the school announces it will no longer operate. On June 5, students walk out the Catholic high school’s doors for the last time. The property is now being considered by the City for demolition and development into affordable housing.
•Everett Square Redevelopment – after years of planning and discussions, the first steps towards re-making Everett Square came in the form of an approved Urban Renewal Plan (URP). That was followed up by an RFP for properties in the area, which brought in five proposals in September. The movement in Everett Square will likely be one of the major stories coming forward in 2020.
•Carol’s Café Closes – After 17 years, one of the City’s breakfast hot-spots closes down in May. Tim and Kim Ferrante had operated the café for many years, and had been the favorite of locals and visitors to Everett during that time. The Main Street café stays open, but under new ownership.
•Blue Ribbon Task Force Report – In September, after 18 months of work, the School Finance Blue Ribbon Task Force issues its report and recommendations on finances for the School Department and the City. Among the findings were an exoneration of the City and Mayor Carlo DeMaria in their skepticism of the need for more money at the School Department. In the wake of the report, the School Department returns $3.2 million in surplus funds to the City.
•Arts Walk – The first-ever Arts Walk takes place through October in Everett, with several local artists and business partaking in the event. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is on hand to initiate the walk at City Hall, and Cultural Commission Chair Karen Alzayer creates momentum for the arts in Everett with the event all month long.