To really trace back the roots of landing the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett requires a trip far beyond the local casino vote or even the arrival of the Wynn company to tour the Lower Broadway site, according to Mayor Carlo DeMaria.
In fact, DeMaria said on Tuesday morning that the birth of the casino came in 2010 when he was having a conversation with former state Secretary Dan O’Connell.
“We were bantering back and forth and I was asking him about Mayor McGlynn getting $10 million for a parking garage and Mayor Curtatone got the Green Line Extension,” he said. “I asked him when Everett was going to get something. He told me we had to have a shovel ready plan. He said we needed a Master Plan. I didn’t know much about Master Plans. There’s no manual on how to be a mayor. So I learned about it and that started the Lower Broadway Master Plan.”
That Master Plan ushered in the groundwork that would eventually become a casino – with dozens of community meetings taking place with residents of Lower Broadway about their preferences, which happened to include a wish list of a marina, a hotel and maybe a resort.
It was a wish that came true.
But it was a journey that was difficult, and marred by personal attacks, as the small city in the shadow of a major metropolitan center literally stole the gaming license from powerful people and entrenched interests.
“Getting the license was probably the same feeling my daughter had this week after winning their playoff softball game, or the feeling an athlete has after winning a championship,” said the mayor. “The City of Everett took the license away from a lot of powerful people and they’ve been very vindictive – even with some of the false charges and claims they made. I’m still standing. Steve Tocco said it was going to be a knife fight. It didn’t think it was going to be a machete fight. I give my wife a lot of credit. She always knew the truth.”
The Wynn folks entered the scene in 2012, and it happened quick and with a first phone call that the mayor said he didn’t expect to blossom into a $2.2 billion resort.
“Wynn had been unsuccessful in Foxboro and I had gotten calls from different operators that wanted tour the site, but I had no interest in them,” he said. “Then I got a call from the late Bob Havern and Steve Tocco wanting to know about the site. I didn’t know either one of them, but I acted like I knew them both. They said Steve Wynn had interest in the site. They said he had read about the urban renewal plan in the Herald. I heard the Wynn name and it was synonymous with beautiful resorts. If you ever go to Las Vegas, you know Wynn is known for beautiful resorts and not just gaming halls.”
That was on a Thursday, and the Wynn team arrived in DeMaria’s office on a Monday.
Wynn toured the site and like it, and wanted to move on it, DeMaria said.
Time was of the essence and informal talks began to move to formal talks. That’s when DeMaria’s wife, Stacy, suggested that the mayor start to bring the idea to the public.
Even DeMaria was skiddish at first, noting that he had proposed legislation as an alderman that would have outlawed gaming. He had been against such things, but this was a whole different opportunity, he said.
And it took him some time to convince others it was a good idea, he said. He was often a man alone on an island – aside from his wife – in the early days.
“I remember holding 30 to 50 to 60 community meetings,” he said. “I see some people who say they were for the casino from the beginning. Let put it this way, there weren’t many elected officials or residents for this at all from the beginning. No many. Our staff did a great job of highlighting the host community agreement, the clean-up and the jobs.”
He recalled one big moment in a meeting at the Connolly Center that was a tipping point – where public opinion could fall off quickly or move to embrace the idea. He said he remembers Butch Fiorentino standing up and asking the crowd how anyone could be against such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“He just changed the mood of the community and everyone began to change their tune,” he said. “Then I began to address the concerns of the city and we did the robo-calls. There were parents with concerns and traffic was always a big thing. I talked to people one by one.”
All of that led up to the June 2012 vote on a Saturday, and no one was sure how that vote might go.
DeMaria had requested the vote happen on a Saturday so everyone could have their voice heard and no one would be missed due to work obligations.
That gamble on the people paid off with an 86 percent ‘yes’ vote for the casino with a large turnout of nearly 10,000 people.
It was a big win on a big risk, and this week DeMaria has been able to see the fruits of that hard work early in the process and throughout the years afterward.
“In politics, if you do anything people will hate you,” he said. “You can sit around in politics for a lifetime and do nothing and everyone will love you. The situation is if you put up a park that most people like, a few won’t like it and they’ll have their kids and families turn against you. That builds up over time if you do things. The last 12 years we’ve done so many good things. They people see that and they may not agree with everything I do, but they do recognize the city is better and more viable and we have a vision.”