A new, revamped effort by the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) to build a mixed-income development on Central Avenue will likely come with a significant Tax Increment Financing (TIF) request, said City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
The new proposal, which is a second attempt by designated developer Corcoran Jennison, will likely come before the City in February or March. However, this time Ambrosino said it’s probably going to also be accompanied by a request from Corcoran for a TIF agreement.
“It will not be an insignificant amount for a TIF,” said Ambrosino. “From the City’s perspective, we’re motivated by the fact there is no other way to get that development rebuilt. This will give those resident brand new units in a mixed income development. Right now, we’re getting zero tax dollars on it, and we would be getting something from the developer if this is built.”
The development was proposed in 2017, but was beat back when Corcoran requested the City Council allow them to use some non-union labor on the project to make the finances work.
A large group of residents and union workers appeared at the meeting on the night of the vote, and the Council agreed with them, shooting down the request.
Nothing has happened since, but it appears that to make the books balance, Corcoran will be looking to get some property taxes reduced for a period of time.
“The City will be sympathetic,” Ambrosino said. “I want that project to move forward. That’s going to be a huge upgrade for those public housing tenants.”
Historically, the Council has been accommodating for TIF requests, but in recent years many councillors have began to question whether they are really needed any longer. It will likely be a spirited debate once again within the board.
Shown in blue is the aea that will be worked on by MassDOT.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the City Council have submitted an eye-opening mitigation package to the MassDOT to accommodate the upcoming Chelsea Viaduct project – a major rehabilitation project of the elevated highway leading to the Tobin/Mystic Bridge.
The project is slated to be advertised in 2018 by the state.
In a letter submitted this month, City Manager Tom Ambrosino asked for a total of $1.724 million from MassDOT for various items to make up for the construction project.
“As you know the Route 1 viaduct basically bisects Chelsea, running directly through its dens, environmental justice neighborhoods,” he wrote. “Because of its overwhelming presence in the City, substantial and lengthy reconstruction of the Route 1 viaduct will undeniably yield negative impacts for the City’s residents, businesses and visitors and severely diminish the City’s quality of life.”
He said the project would have substantial disruption to the daily lives of Chelsea residents, including middle school and high school students who routinely walk in the Viaduct area to get the school.
MassDOT said it is early in the design stage and looks to be at about 25 percent by the end of the year. It is considering the letter, but had no further comment than that.
“MassDOT is currently in the early design stage, and is in the process of engaging the public in order to develop a comprehensive construction staging plan that will accelerate construction and minimize disruption to the City of Chelsea and commuters,” said a spokesman for MassDOT. “Additionally, MassDOT is in the process of evaluating the letter from the City of Chelsea and as always, will consider all suggestions that avoid, minimize or mitigate impacts to local business, members of the community and to ensure reliable travel throughout the viaduct area.”
One of the biggest asks is $500,000 to fund a decorative lighting program under the Viaduct. Ambrosino said the lots beneath the Viaduct have historically been very dimly lit and subject to blight and criminal activity. The City is asking for post construction lighting that includes typical street lighting, and also a significant public art and special design program.
“As a commanding presence, the City envisions a spatial design and public art involving up-lighting that would enliven this corridor and lessen the negative attributes associated with the highway,” he wrote.
A second ask is for funding in the amount of $300,000 to re-design and renovate the football stadium and Carter Park – which are cut in half by the Viaduct.
Other mitigation measures include surveillance for parking lots, parking lot improvements under the Bridge for the City, improvements to the Fourth Street off-ramp, residential enhancements to homes abutting the bridge, additional crossing guards for school children, and a contribution to a bike-pedestrian path on the Tobin/Mystic Bridge.
Yellow bikes are preparing to invade the City’s sidewalks and thoroughfares as the increasingly-popular ofo bike sharing service has been approved to launch in Chelsea this week.
“ofo is coming to Chelsea,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “I think they may launch this week.”
ofo is a bike sharing company based in China that has recently launched operations very successfully in Revere – where their trademark yellow bikes have seen wide-spread usage in the rollout there this month. City Councilor Roy Avellaneda brought ofo to the attention of Ambrosino and, after a meeting, he said the City was willing to allow a 60-day pilot in Chelsea with about 150 bikes stationed in the city.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “I think this concept is in some ways better because there’s no investment. HubWay wanted a major investment from the City for infrastructure and they were still reluctant to come to Chelsea. This business is far superior from that perspective. The only question is are they going to be a nuisance. As long as you they get the right numbers for the usage, I don’t think they’ll be a nuisance.”
He said there is no commitment from the City and the bikes will be removed in December and the City will evaluate the program.
ofo is one of a number of companies, which also includes HubWay that is used exclusively in Boston. However, unlike HubWay, ofo doesn’t use permanent parking stations that take up sidewalk and/or parking spaces. Instead, the bikes have a GPS monitoring system and are parked wherever the user desires. They lock up automatically and are activated using a QR code scanner on a cell phone. They are also a lot cheaper, at $1 per hour.
However, right now, Revere is the only other user in the general area, making it a potential problem to be able to ride across City lines to Everett or East Boston.
Ambrosino said they are leaning towards a regional carrier that will be determined by a Massachusetts Area Planning Council (MAPC) Request for Proposals. He said connectedness is likely very important on this issue.
“I think the goal is to have what the region goes with,” he said. “MAPC will put out an RFP for a regional user. They will select one company so there is interoperability between cities and towns. I think we’ll be wanting to use the same one in Chelsea. You can’t have one in Boston and one in Revere and one in Chelsea…We’ve told ofo that’s where Chelsea wants to go.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino with Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots, and Leslie Aldrich, associate director of MGH Center for Community Health Improvement, at the Chamber of Commerce Government Breakfast, where he announced that Chelsea was a recipient of the RWJF Culture of Health Prize.
Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino chose the Chamber Government Breakfast Wednesday to make a special announcement that the city has been awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Culture of Health Prize.
The Prize honors communities for their unwavering efforts to ensure all residents have the opportunity to live healthier lives. Chelsea will receive a $25,000 cash prize, join a network of Prize-winning communities, and have their inspiring accomplishments shared throughout the nation.
Ambrosino called to the podium GreenRoots Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni and MGH Center for Community Health Improvement (CCHI) Associate Director Leslie Aldrich for the ceremonial acceptance of the prestigious award. Both women were instrumental in compiling Chelsea’s application to the RWJF.
“I have exciting news to tell you – something very special,” said Ambrosino. “Chelsea, Massachusetts is a winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Prize for 2017. And that’s worthy of applause.”
Even before Ambrosino completed his declaration, the crowd had responded with hearty applause.
Ambrosino said Chelsea is one of only eight communities nationwide to receive “this prestigious award.”
He called the application process “arduous” and added that it took months and months of work.
“And it couldn’t have been done without the two people here – Roseann Bongionvanni from GreenRoots and Leslie Aldrich from MGH (who oversees the Healthy Chelsea Coalition) They were the co-applicants to the RWJF on behalf of the city of Chelsea. And they worked extremely hard to get this application done. I’m very grateful and I want to thank them.”
Ambrosino said following the submission of the application, the city had to convince the visiting RWJF committee that it was deserving of the national award.
“It was the community that convinced the visiting committee that Chelsea was deserving. It was the incredible collaboration of our non-profits and community-based organization. It was the engagement of our business community led by our Chamber of Commerce and the powerful and emotional stories about what Chelsea meant to our residents.”
Bongiovanni thanked the Foundation for recognizing Chelsea’s efforts to become a healthier community.
“So many residents, city leaders, businesses and community partners have come together to make Chelsea a healthier community in which to live,” said Bongiovanni. “I am so grateful to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for recognizing those efforts with the prestigious Culture of Health Award. It exemplifies a whole community coming together for the betterment of our people, our environment, our future.”
Aldrich praised Chelsea residents for their unity and the city for its strong commitment to being a healthy community.
“Being nationally recognized for this work, despite the many challenges this community has faced and that still exist, is a reflection of the community’s resilience and commitment to one another,” said Aldrich. “The friendships and partnerships that have been forged in the effort to make Chelsea a healthier place to live are true and lasting and what makes Chelsea such a unique community.”
Dan Cortez, community engagement specialist for the Chelsea Police Department, Sylvia Ramirez of the Chelsea Collaborative, and Jose Iraheta Zaldana of Neighborhood Developers and Chelsea Thrives, also had key roles in Chelsea’s success and will join the local delegation at the RWJF awards ceremony.
“I think in the past Chelsea has always had issues and challenges and maybe wasn’t coordinated enough to meet those challenges,” said Cortez. “But I think Chelsea in the past four or five years under the previous leadership of Jay Ash and now Tom Ambrosino and Chief Brian Kyes and other people like Capt. Dave Batchelor – we coordinate our efforts, we have a hub mindset where we can collectively approach these challenging issues and report on them – that provides the accountability that has been missing in the past.”
Ambrosino said the city will hold a community gathering to celebrate the award.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino and consultants for the City took their message of a two-way Broadway in the business district to owners of the businesses on Thursday morning, Aug. 31, with Ambrosino saying he would stake his position on the issue.
Members of City government met with business owner from Broadway and the adjacent downtown streets Thursday morning at the Green Street Apartments community room. Kicking off the morning, Ambrosino expressed his great support for the change.
“It is incumbent on me to try to reduce the level of skepticism and outright opposition to this change,” he said emphatically. “That is what I’ll try to do in the coming months…I am 100 percent confident I can do that by doing two things – telling you about the advantages and listening to you…Whatever you think of two-way Broadway – one-way Broadway, that one-way speedway, cannot continue. It is unsafe. It is confusing to pedestrians and motorists and it is counterproductive to businesses and merchants on the corridor.”
Ambrosino stressed he believes that one change can transform the City’s downtown – particularly in terms of easing traffic patterns, eliminating unsafe double parking situations and making it easier for pedestrians to get to businesses.
Ralph DiNisco of the consulting firm Nelson Nygaard said that two-way Broadway is possible from a traffic management standpoint.
He compared it to other communities like Revere and Somerville where the lanes are just as wide and the traffic volumes are far greater.
Having studied the volumes in Chelsea and other communities, Broadway Chelsea handles only about 6,500 cars per day, where other Broadways along the Route 107 corridor handle double that.
“From a traffic operations perspective, two-way Broadway can work,” he said. “The numbers aren’t so high that it’s impossible. It can easily work with some changes. From a big picture, there’s no fatal flaw…If you look at other places, they have converted to two-way, and they are successful…Broadway now is a speedway. Nobody stops going down Broadway. They go faster than you want a car to go in a very busy downtown business corridor with people walking around.”
Police Chief Brian Kyes also spoke highly of the change, saying it would help dangerous situations for pedestrians and prevent double parking of delivery trucks – which allows criminals to shield themselves from police.
“There are a lot of young mothers pushing a carriage and when they come out with a carriage from behind a truck, it’s a very, very dangerous situation,” he said. “I’ve heard the idea for many, many years and we at the police department think it’s a very good idea.”
But business owners weren’t so convinced.
Some, like Roman Gold of Margolis Pharmacy, felt that it could increase traffic and become a cut-through for people trying to avoid Rt. 1 traffic.
“You could start to see a lot more traffic redirected by things like the Waze app from Route 1 to avoid traffic tie-ups further up the road,” he said.
Rick Gordon of Allen’s Cut-Rite said one of the biggest problems for merchants would be deliveries. Many merchants, he said, cannot afford to pay to have deliveries outside of busy times, and he said there isn’t adequate space for delivery trucks in the alley.
“Many people would have to pay $100 or $150 fees for scheduling deliveries,” he said. “I can’t really pass that fee on to my customers and it’s an undue burden on the small business. Many of us do UPS and FedEx only, but some get trailer trucks in periodically…What needs to be done is you need to start by re-striping the parking spots and doing the small things.”
Compare Supermarket owner Al Calvo said he thinks that the delivery problem – which was a great concern – could be solved.
“We’re emphatic with our vendors that there be no deliveries after noon,” he said. “I think there’s a way for us as business people to set the rules. Sometimes my deliveries show up after 2 p.m. and we don’t accept the load. We do have leverage.”
Some were also worried about whether or not the City could enforce the rules well enough, that there would be enough oversight.
Ambrosino said he guaranteed that, if approved, he would make it work.
“We have enough manpower and enough officers that want to work overtime if that’s what it takes,” he said. “I will put my reputation on the line. The City Council can fire me if it doesn’t work. I think it can be that transformative.”
The change cannot be unilaterally implemented. If it is recommended in the overall Re-Imagining Broadway study, it has to be submitted to the Traffic Commission. If approved there, it must go to the City Council for a final approval. At each step, there is plenty of room for public comment.
r of the community and executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative since 2006, is stepping down as the leader of the well-known agency whose headquarters are on Broadway.
Vega, who has earned victories for Chelsea residents against injustices and helped improve community-police relations, informed her friends and colleagues in a personal letter this week that she would be stepping down.
“The Collaborative has been my home for 29 years and the time has come for me to move on,” wrote Vega, adding that it has been “a tremendous honor to lead such a skilled and dedicated staff.”
City and state officials reacted with deep emotion that Vega, who has done so much to improve the qualify for life for residents and helped establish the Collaborative as a national model, would be calling it a career in the city.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino praised Vega as a tremendous advocate for residents who worked tirelessly on their behalf in important causes. Ambrosino said that Vega was “a true friend” to the city and a highly respected community organizer statewide.
Sen. Sal DiDomenico said that Gladys Vega “has been an outstanding advocate for the City of Chelsea and a champion for the many new residents from throughout the world who call Chelsea home.
“It has been a pleasure working with her over the years to serve the city and to enhance the social, environmental, and economic health of our community and its residents,” said DiDomenico.
Vega began her association with the Collaborative as a receptionist when executive director Edward Marakowitz headed the organization and it was located at 300 Broadway.
Vega’s passion for her work and the personable and professional manner in which she conducted herself became obvious to her colleagues. A 1985 graduate of Cheslea High School who had come to Chelsea from Puerto Rico when she was nine, Vega understood the challenges facing Latino residents and how to best help them grow and prosper in their new community.
Vega became the office manager and then worked as a tenant organizer. She showed her impeccable community organizing skills right away, fighting for tenants’ rights and gaining an important victory against an absentee landlord. Her organization has stood at the forefront advocating for immigrant families. The Collaborative became the go-to place for Chelsea youths seeking a summer job.
The question being asked by residents in all corners of the city is: Why is Gladys Vega leaving at the height of her power and name recognition and with the unmatched skills to rally people for important causes locally and nationally?
“I always told my family when I turn 50 years old (she celebrated her birthday at a large party in June), that I wanted to do something different because I feel the Collaborative has taken my social life away in a manner that all I do is work and be committed to the organization and the movement,” said Vega, who has two children, Melinda, 28, and Jerry, 21.
She spoke emotionally about the loss of her mother, Juanita Vega, who was a great inspiration in Gladys’s life. “There have been all these things that have happened in my life and I have never slowed down. I want to try a different job and leave myself time to help raise my two grandchildren. I have never been happier to have those two individuals in my life and I want to make sure that I don’t steal time from them like I stole from my two children.”
Vega also talked about health issues that she has had in the past but she happily reports to her many friends and supporters, “This year I’ve been in the best health. It’s been a very good year.”
There have been so many personal accomplishments during her brilliant reign as executive director, it was difficult for Vega to pinpoint one.
“But I’d say my biggest accomplishment was putting Latinos on the map and building a bridge between communities regardless where people come from and regardless of documentation,” said Vega. “To be able to put a passion in people that Chelsea is a great community to live in – we are a group of people that have worked very hard to build up Chelsea. Our movement has made history because our goals have always been to focus on the growth and betterment of Chelsea as a community.”
Vega lauded the many Chelsea administrators and community leaders that have helped the Collaborative succeed on its journey. She singled out the leadership of former city manager Jay Ash. Vega was front and center involving Latinos in city government when Ash ably piloted the total resurgence of Chelsea. She traveled with many others to Denver when Chelsea received the coveted All-America City Award from the National Civic League.
Many say that honor was Jay Ash’s finest hour as city manager and Gladys Vega was a valuable member of the team – its preeminent community organizer – that helped bring the city national recognition.
“We, those of us who care deeply about the community, worked with Jay Ash to help turn the city around,” said Vega.
She also spoke reverentially about the positive impact that Police Chief Brian Kyes has had in helping immigrants feel safe in the city.
“I love the fact that Chief Kyes gets the concept of diversity. I’ve worked very close with him and I know that people trust him and trust his leadership. I’m very proud to say that I was a part of the selection committee for chief and Chief Kyes has not let me down. I have been very impressed with his work and the police officers’ work in our community.”
Former Collaborative assistant executive director Roseann Bongiovanni and Colloborative President Rosalba Medina, a Chelsea Police detective, also drew plaudits from Vega.
“Roseann started at the Collaborative at the age of 19 – she was like my sister in the movement,” said Vega. “Little by little we kept working together until we built this environmental justice movement. Both of us learned together and worked very hard to build an environmental justice model that is the envy of other cities. We had more victories than we had losses.”
“It’s been an honor to work with Rosie Medina,” said Vega. “She has been a great liaison and partner in the Chelsea criminal justice system. Her leadership of our board has been outstanding.”
Vega said she worked closely with her cousin, Juan Vega, and community activist Tito Meza to help increase the number of Latino police officers in the department.
Vega regrets that she will not be continuing her work with current city manager Tom Ambrosino at the helm of Chelsea city government.
“As I think about moving on, I would have loved to have worked closer with him – my time with him has been brief, but it has been an amazing partnership. I think Tom, having been elected mayor of Revere, has a great sense of community organization and a sense of helping his constituents and listening to the people with a great level of professionalism. He treats everyone equally. I love what he has done as our city manager and I’m a huge fan of Tom Ambrosino – who has stated that there is no room for hate or injustice in the city.”
Vega will stay on board at the Collaborative until a successor is named. There will be a farewell celebration in December at the Homewood Suites Hotel in Chelsea.
City Council President Leo Robinson congratulated Vega on her successful tenure at the Collaborative, understanding that she has been one of the city’s most visible and most admired community leaders for three decades.
“Gladys Vega did a very good job for Chelsea residents and I wish her good health and good luck in all her future endeavors.”
City officials and consultants for the Re-Imagining Broadway effort will take one of their most controversial suggestions to the business community on Broadway today, Aug. 31, prompting a discussion about making Broadway a two-way street.
The six-month planning effort has come up with numerous suggestions about how to improve the corridor, but at the top of those suggestions is the idea about taking Broadway from a one-way to a two-way.
The street has been in its current configuration for more than a generation, and few remember the last time it was moving differently.
However, count City Manager Tom Ambrosino as a convert to the idea.
“I think it will be transformative and make a large difference for the downtown’s flavor,” he said. “I think we can do it. Put me down as a huge proponent. It could dramatically improve the safety of the corridor by slowing down traffic considerably. I think it would look a lot prettier. The drawings have a very interesting iteration of a two-way Broadway.”
Ambrosino said this month that after the meeting with the downtown stakeholders, including the businesses, they would come up with a decision on the matter.
All downtown business owners and employees are invited to attend the meeting, which takes place at 9 a.m. at the Greenhouse Apartments Community Room, 154 Pearl St.
The Chelsea City Council logged two votes to authorize taking and the payment for an eminent domain action on the former Salvation Army Store on Broadway – an aggressive move that City Manager Tom Ambrosino has touted for several months.
The Council voted 10-0 to authorize the taking of 440-448 Broadway by the Legal Department, and also voted 10-0 to authorize a $1.34 million payment from the Free Cash account for the property.
“The City strongly recommends the City Council approves this Eminent Domain taking,” said Ambrosino on Monday. “The building is in a critical location in terms of our efforts to revitalize the Broadway corridor. It’s been a blighted area for some time. That has not improved now that it has become vacant.”
He said he hoped to make the taking officially to eliminate blight.
Last month, a fair market value appraisal came in at $1.34 million and Ambrosino decided to go forward.
The Council agreed on Monday.
Eminent Domain takings are often contested in court and frequently the seller appeals the price paid, resulting sometimes in a higher price and sometimes in a lower price. That is typically a long, drawn out process, but there is no indication the new owner – believed to be the Rainbow Fashion’s owner – will pursue that path.
Ambrosino said he hopes to create a mixed use building with first floor retail and residential units – including affordable housing – on the upper floors.
At the same time on Monday, Ambrosino presented the Council with a request for them to use a new state law allowing them to make Broadway a “Development District.” Such a district comes with a “Development Plan” and is a similar idea to have an Urban Renewal District.
While the idea is to aid the City’s efforts in the Chelsea Prospers program and the Re-Imagining Broadway infrastructure project, one of the key advantages is streamlining the process for taking properties that are blighted.
“At this time, there is no specific target of property acquisition in the Downtown beyond what has been previously present to the Council (Salvation Army Store),” he wrote. “However, the ‘Development District’ designation provides the flexibility to engage in that process, with Council approval, if the need arises in the future.”
Another benefit of the District, he said, is for the City to be able to use the innovative infrastructure funding tool called the District Improvement Financing (DIF) tool. He said there are no plans for any DIFs right now, but it is a good tool to have for the future of Broadway.
Finally, he said the designation would allow the City a better opportunity to unlock state and federal grants for infrastructure projects in the Downtown district.
He said he would the Development Program to go along with the designation would be worked out over the summer and likely presented to the Council in the Fall.
The matter was put on file and will be considered when the Council resumes meetings in September.
In an effort to ramp up the downtown overhaul, City Manager Tom Ambrosino submitted a request to the City Council to hold a hearing and move forward with an eminent domain taking of the Salvation Army Store at 440 Broadway.
Ambrosino told the Record a few weeks ago that he planned to pursue the idea, but wasn’t completely certain of it at the time. Since then, certainly has been stamped.
“The City’s decision to pursue this taking was not done without considerable thought,” he wrote the Council. “It is not generally my desire to acquire private property in this aggressive manner, notwithstanding important public needs. However, in this case, I feel the decision is necessary…With the recent closing of the Salvation Army store and its expected sale, the City has no control over what new use might occupy the space and no way of ensuring that such new use is not even more detrimental to the City’s Broadway improvement efforts.”
Ambrosino told the Council on Monday night that he has recently received an appraisal of the property and found that, as of May 4, the fair market value is $1.34 million.
He said that he hopes the City can enhance that section of the downtown with a newly reconstructed or renovated building that will include commercial space on the first floor and some affordable residential units on the upper floors.
He suggested the City use its Free Cash account, which boasts some $34 million, to pay for the taking.
The Council moved the request to use Free Cash to a Second Reading for the next meeting, where they will likely act on it. They also called for a public hearing on the Order of Taking at the June 19 meeting.
The Salvation Army Store on Broadway closed earlier this month, and the City said this week that it is seriously considering taking the property by eminent domain due to it being a blight on the city and for public policy purposes.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the store has been sold, and he said some believe it is to the owner of the Rainbow Fashions, but he wasn’t sure. In any case, the new owner hasn’t been terribly responsive and he has engaged an independent appraisal to understand what it might cost.
“The City is very interested in taking it by eminent domain,” he said. “We’re going to engage an appraiser and I’ll report what I would like to do one way or the other to the City Council within the next month…The City’s position is that it is blighted and was blighted. We would take it for public policy purposes as part of an effort to revive the Broadway business corridor.”
Council President Leo Robinson said he agreed with the idea, and would support it if Ambrosino recommends the taking.
“I am ok with it and I support it,” he said. “We’re looking to change how we do retail in the downtown and we want to put more units above the stores. This is a key property to make that happen.”
Ambrosino said if they take it, they would likely put it out for development, with a stress on affordable housing. He said ground floor retail would be required as well. He said he would envision several floors of housing and a marquee tenant on the first floor.
He said the Fourth to Fifth Street stretch of Broadway is a key part of the overall Downtown initiative.
With the store sitting empty, that effort is hamstrung.
“This is a top priority of mine within the month,” he said.