By Darren Costa
The Mass Gaming Commission (MGC) held a public hearing on April 25th in the Everett City Council Chambers to discuss the proposed Encore Casino East of Broadway expansion project. A major topic was whether to hold a vote for the expansion of the Encore Casino. Overall, I support a Wynn LLC expansion in Everett’s “Entertainment District” — under some critical conditions. Given the material increase in the Encore Casino’s gaming footprint and operations, including sports gaming, Everett and Wynn need to renegotiate the original Host Agreement.
I support Wynn because they have been a partner in cleaning toxic land, but there is more to be done.
Unfortunately, Everett came up short in the first negotiation of the Host Agreement with Wynn. I would not approve expansion until we have an updated agreement that supports the interests of Everett’s residents much more thoroughly. Until now, there has been minimal contact between Wynn and Everett’s City Council. In 2022, during a City Council meeting, Wynn acknowledged and committed to a negotiation, in good faith, that considers current economic conditions and beyond. We should be ready to bring great ideas forward during this process. Here are a few of mine.
Moving forward, Wynn should lead programs in collaboration with the City of Everett. Everett needs a well-considered and enforced strategy for solving our affordable housing crisis. Currently, Everett only receives a (small) community impact fee and frankly we don’t have the capacity to develop and manage the programs necessary to drive solutions alone. It is impractical to simply accept funding without internal infrastructure to spend it appropriately; we should require ongoing collaboration with Wynn to construct and deliver solutions.
For example, our schools and students would benefit from a more formal partnership with Wynn, complete with compliance, annual reporting and contractual obligation, beyond what’s offered today. They could deliver broader career development opportunities for students, offer Wynn-sponsored programming on-site at schools, and promote student-led civic enhancements.
Have you noticed that Everett has the fewest green spaces and trees in the greater Boston area, which makes suffering from increasing air pollution and heat much worse for our residents (called urban heat island effect)? I have. Poorly-considered expansion will only make this issue worse. That is why I do not support the proposal for three new parking garages to be built above-ground; Wynn can and should install underground parking instead, clearing the area for parks and trees above. We also have the opportunity to require additional green initiatives such as community solar on their extensive rooftop space to reduce the burden on our community’s energy grid.
As a densely populated gateway city, Everett desperately needs more public green space where families can gather and enjoy the outdoors. Wynn’s current proposed plans include minimal open air space and public accessibility to community space. The current renderings of the entrance to the overhead pedistrian bridge appear closed off. It would require a resident to enter the building to cross Broadway. Instead, we could have open and inviting outdoor access to the overhead walking path over Broadway. This public walkway should be clear and welcoming to our residents, similar to the TD Banknorth Garden’s integrated entrance with the MBTA.
On April 11th, I attended the Encore East of Broadway open house at the Encore Casino. It was a wonderful event, however very few Everett residents attended. Everett should require increased community engagement in the city at large, such as sponsoring and participating in events for residents, such as 4th of July, Easter, Halloween, etc. Everett’s Recreation Center draws hundreds of residents and students.
Everett also needs Wynn’s cooperation on transportation. Wynn shuttle service should be expanded, with more routes and more frequent services to connect commuters to local rail stops where the MBTA falls short. The Wynn water taxi to Long Wharf should expand its service and better promote it as a commuting option from Everett into Boston. Everett has a deteriorating overpass in Sweetser circle that should be repaired. We also lack any vision or plan for building MBTA tracks in our city, while MBTA tracks run behind the Encore Boston Harbor Casino.
But is it greedy or inappropriate for us to ask for these things? As a business person and financial professional by day, I don’t think so. Let’s look at the numbers. Encore Boston Harbor paid Everett ~$22 million for Fiscal Year 2023 as a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and a Community Impact Fee of ~$5 million for public safety, other municipal services and the offset of negative impacts to a community due to gambling and drinking per the current negotiated agreement. Consider that Wynn sold the Encore Boston Harbor property for $1.7 billion, which would have generated $42 million in normal property taxes. Also consider the property’s current property assessment is $1.3 billion, which would have generated $32 million in normal property taxes. Everett collected only ~$27 million when we could have received $32-$42 million — a difference of up to $15 million per year! In addition, both the PILOT and Community Impact Fee grow annually at only 2.5%, which is far below inflation. In 2022, Wynn generated $xx billion in revenue, so rest assured they can afford to integrate these common-sense requests for our city.
Given the material increase in the Encore Casino’s gaming footprint and operations, including sports gaming, Everett and Wynn need to renegotiate the original Host Agreement. The Host Agreement, in section 1B items 1 & 2, requires an open negotiation of the Host Community agreement between the City of Everett and Wynn in aggregate, not in pieces.
In summary, I truly believe that Wynn is a beneficial member of our community. I will be encouraged when I hear more details regarding the negotiations of the original Host Agreement, as promised. We need to make our city and its residents a higher priority in this discussion, which is certainly possible. I believe we can continue to be proud to have Wynn as a partner while we work together to develop and support our city wisely — and Wynn can continue to be proud to be a big part of an ever-improving Everett.
I want to hear from Everett residents and can be reached at:
* @Darren4Everett on Facebook (Follow for continued coverage and updates of what’s important in Everett)
Darren Costais the Current Ward 3 City Councilor, 2023 Ward 3 City Council Re-election Candidate for Everett Massachusetts