Gondolas aren’t gone, but for now they’re up in the air.
Encore Boston Harbor and Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s long-touted idea for gondolas over the Mystic River and up Lower Broadway has taken a detour this week after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) denied a $200,000 planning grant request by Everett to study an Aerial Tramway.
That said, it didn’t mean the City completely as the MGC did approve four very important mitigation grants for public safety and capital projects/planning.
The gondola idea has been bantered around by Encore and the mayor for the last year or so, with the Aerial Tramway plan being rolled out informally earlier this year – along with the idea to take the system all the way up Broadway to Everett City Hall to provide faster and car-free transportation.
Mayor DeMaria said he wasn’t too disappointed given the current circumstances facing the City and the state. He said it is more of a long-term plan to be thought about when things improve.
“The gondola is part of a long-term vision for the City of Everett,” he said. “With the current fiscal situation that our state and nation are with faced with now is not the time to be looking to build bigger and better. We must maintain what we have with hopes that our long term plan will come to fruition in the future.”
When proposed earlier this year, it drew considerable attention locally and also regionally, but had its critics as it seemed to be in replacement of the long-sought after Mystic River pedestrian and cycle bridge – a bridge Encore had been touted as the connection between the casino and the Assembly Row Orange Line stop prior to the Gondola idea.
The study, however, would not have been about the trip crossing the Mystic River, but rather about running the gondolas from the casino to Everett City Hall.
It seems the MGC and MassDOT also had their reservations about the study, saying it was too early in the process.
“The Review Team believes that it is premature to award a grant to investigate an extension of Encore’s proposed aerial tram,” read the analysis by the MGC. “In addition, given the fiscal constraints on the program this year and next, the Review Team wants to make sure that funds are being spent on the projects that have the best chances of success. Therefore, the Review Team does not recommend awarding a grant to the City of Everett for the Broadway Gondola Feasibility Study.”
MassDOT believed it was innovative, but maybe not the best solution when looking at cost.
“MassDOT has reservations regarding the City of Everett’s request for $200,000 to evaluate the feasibility of constructing a gondola along Broadway from the casino to Everett City Hall,” read a response from MassDOT. “While this is an innovative idea, MassDOT believes there may be more cost-effective investments to improve or expand existing transit options in the area.”
¥Everett Fire and Everett Police
While the gondolas were put on hold for now, the Everett Fire Department got a $200,000 grant for details worked last fall that came unexpectedly due to the higher call volumes from the casino. Everett Fire had asked for $629,455 – the full cost of the details – as a ‘Specific Impact’ grant and reasoned that call volumes had increased greatly. However, MGC reviewers believed the Department should have anticipated some increase in call volumes, so they created a formula that they believed represented the proper amount of unexpected costs. That resulted in the $200,000 grant.
The Everett Police had called for $183,783 in Specific Impact grants and got $184,000 from the MGC. Part of that was to purchase a new police van – as the old one was breaking down. The rest of the grant was to cover overtime costs as there were more police needed during later night events – which was unexpected at opening.
¥Breakthrough On Bike Trail
The MGC awarded the City a $375,000 Community Mitigation grant to help pay for the City’s remaining portion of the design for the Northern Strand Community Trail extension project – which would connect the end of the trail at Norman Street with Encore Boston Harbor via the Gateway Mall.
The City has spent $280,000 on design so far, and needed the grant to finish up design work for the project. Gateway Mall has agreed to fund $2.3 million of the project, and Everett committed $1.75 million for design and construction. A planning grant had been given by the MGC in 2018 for the project as well.
The total cost for construction and design is $3.8 million.
The grant will accelerate the project towards construction.
¥Studying The Waterfront
The City of Everett also requested an got a $100,000 planning grant from the MGC to look at the Designated Port Area (DPA) along the Lower Mystic River adjacent to Lower Broadway. The City has long sought to study the DPA on the Everett waterfront to see if portions could be removed from the Area and re-developed. The MGC agreed that with the casino development on Lower Broadway, it only made sense to look at the waterfront DPA.
The City did not get approved for two other requests, including a Silver Line Extension planning grant in combination with Somerville. A similar grant had already been awarded to the duo last year, but has yet to be expended.
Lastly, the MGC did not approve a data driven strategies marketing plan that Everett had applied for the try to get casino guests to “turn left” towards other businesses in Everett. Using casino data and other technical resources, the idea was to study how to get casino patrons to local Everett business districts. It was seen by the MGC as something that should be a regional effort, and not a City effort.