Everett Building Inspector Jim Soper was largely credited with revolutionizing and streamlining the Building Department in Everett just as a building boom fell on the city over the last five years – being a trusted advisor of Mayor Carlo DeMaria who was known to figure out how to make something work rather than tell people why something won’t work.
In that, he was unique and brought a fabulous professional reputation to the Building Department in Everett that was known far and wide in the construction industry – and by homeowners as well. Tragically, Soper died suddenly at his home in Winthrop on Saturday, leaving many to grieve for his loss.
Soper had been born and raised in Winthrop, and still lived there, but in 2012 left that town as its Building Inspector to take over a revamped operation in Everett.
Soper was cited by a number of developers over the years as being forward-thinking and willing to listen and figure out how to make projects work and still fit within the safety and zoning codes. That was clearly apparent in 2016 when New Business Intelligence, a large software development company, wanted to renovate and upstairs building in Everett Square. In a world where Building Departments are usually behind the times and apt to say ‘no’ at the slightest new idea, when NBI proposed having showers and a kitchen in their office, Soper was willing to figure it out. Because employees in their field often stay late at night working, they need a kitchen to cook, and because the industry is heavy on bike riding, a shower is standard office fare. That was all new to Everett, but Soper was open enough to trust and make it happen – which is what defined him as an Inspector in an incredibly changing time for the City.
“We had some different and unique things we needed for our office,” said NBI owner Matthew Nowosiadly. “We asked the landlord if he thought we could do these things. He said it would likely be no problem. I said, ‘Oh yea, wait until they find out I want a full kitchen with an exhaust fan.’ In the end, it wasn’t a problem. Everett was like, what can we do to get your business here? Everything was up to code and everything was safe, but it wasn’t difficult.”
So many have said the same thing about Soper.
Clearly, the centerpiece of his professional life was pouring over the plans and drawings of the Encore Boston Harbor resort and casino. His office was largely the overseeing authority for the City when Encore began proposing its plans, built out its plans, and began operating on the site.
For several years, Soper was a fixture at regular meetings with Wynn Resorts, and worked closely with their engineers and project managers – earning the City more accolades for their ability to think on a bigger scale and also protect the City’s residents.
Soper also collaborated closely with the Planning Department, and one of his most exciting endeavors was crafting the new zoning and Urban Renewal Plans for the Commercial Triangle on the Parkway. That area is just now starting to see the fruits of Soper’s vision – proposed many years ago and adopted in 2018. There are a half-dozen projects lined up for the Triangle right now, most all due to the vision of Soper and other Planning Department collaborators.
“The economy of the area will see how that all works out with retail, office and residential,” Soper told the Planning Board in 2018. “There isn’t going to be a dry cleaner in every building, but rather many different uses. We’re really hoping a village is built there.”
Soper was also always a trusty advisor to the Planning Board, the Zoning Board and the Licensing Board to name but a few. Almost always at every one of those meetings, he was a trustworthy advisor that rarely failed to have the answer to any question on hand.
Soper was also genuinely a good human being as well.
In Winthrop, he stood up strongly for a neighbor he felt was getting a bad deal on an international custody issue – helping draw attention to the matter and get his neighbor help.
In Everett, when COVID-19 struck, he and his department were some of the first to begin delivering hot meals to seniors and other vulnerable populations in the city. Soper and his co-workers suddenly found themselves delivering up to 400 hot meals per day to residents across the city, while also balancing their duties within the Inspectional Services Department.
“What I know from the guys that are doing this is they are very happy to make people so happy,” he said in April. “They all enjoy doing it. Your heart gives a little bit during these times.”
Soper’s passing is assured to bring several tributes in the coming week.