Making Progress : City Manager Ambrosino Forwards Salvation Army Building RFP to Council

City Manager Tom Ambrosino has forwarded a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) to the City Council for review and possible approval when the body re-convenes in late summer.

The Salvation Army building was taken by the City after it went vacant and seemingly had not viable plans. It is a key property in the City’s hopes to revitalize the downtown, and the RFP from Ambrosino has been long in the coming.

Now, the bones of that five-page RFP have become public and the vision is a mixed-use affordable housing project with a retail component. Ambrosino has suggested that the City apply for zoning relief to build 16 units on top of the existing store. That, he suggested, would reduce the cost for any developer that wins designation for the site.

“I’m happy we are making some progress, and I hope to have an RFP ready for advertisement in the Fall,” he said.

The RFP explains that on the first floor, “the City envisions retail space that enlivens the streetscape, offers opportunities for small, locally owned businesses and entrepreneurs, and yields community benefits.”

The City is hoping that there could be new construction on top of the existing one-story store, with an affordable housing or mixed-income approach. The RFP encourages developers to be creating in helping to solve the City’s housing shortage and also bring life to what has been a troubled area for a long time.

“Projects shall aspire to increase the social and economic vitality of the central business district,” read the RFP. “Searching for an innovative, exciting project, the City desires an architecturally attractive and lively project that will result in positive, cascading effects throughout the central business district, while providing an inviting and alluring atmosphere for residents and the community.”

The RFP calls for a robust community process from any developer that wins the right to develop the property.

Also, the sale price has been suggested to be somewhere around $1.34 million, which was the appraised value in 2017.

An exciting process to complement the downtown initiatives are expected this fall.

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Planning Board Approves Eight Units on Spencer Avenue

The Planning Board has approved plans for an eight-unit, four story condominium building at Spencer and Eastern Avenues, despite concerns from some board members about traffic and the size of the project.

The project at 254 Spencer Ave. will now go before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for several variances, including parking relief. The developer is proposing eight parking spots at the site, where 12 are required by the City.

The developer will tear down the existing two-family house on the 5,000-square-foot lot and replace the home with the market-rate condo units. The units will be about 1,000 square feet each and likely sell for about $500,000 each. The project will abut the larger Acadia affordable housing development.

Although several Planning Board members raised concerns about the size of the project, Mimi Rancatore was the only board member to cast a vote against the project.

Rancatore said she appreciated the look and quality of the new building, “but I think it is just too big.”

While Rancatore said the four-story building would be comparable to the Acadia project, it would be bigger than other homes and buildings in the neighborhood. She said it could create a domino effect, with other developers buying smaller homes and knocking them down to build higher in the area.

City Council President Damali Vidot also said she liked the overall look of the project but was worried it could set a precedent leading to denser development in the neighborhood.

However, a number of residents who live in the neighborhood said they supported the project and questioned why the Planning Board had not taken greater action to stop the larger Acadia and 1005 Webster Avenue projects if they were concerned about traffic and overdevelopment.

“Why give (the developer) a hard time about this when it is the same level as the Acadia,” said neighborhood resident Barbara Richard. “We in the area approve of it.”

The Planning Board approved the project with the condition that the developer look at ways to add some more trees and shrubbery near the front of the building.

“In my opinion, the project will make a nice transition from the Acadia down to the two- and three-story buildings next to it,” said Planning Board Chairman Tuck Willis. “Certainly, what is there now is underutilized and in bad condition, and this building would clean that up.”

•In other business, the Planning Board discussed a proposed zoning amendment from the City Council concerning off-street parking regulations. Under the zoning change, residents of buildings where the developers have sought zoning relief for the number of on-site parking spaces would not be eligible to participate in the City’s off-street sticker parking program.

“This would be a way to encourage development but not further burden the residents who live here,” said Vidot.

But Rancatore said she believes the amendment would be hard to enforce and only encourage illegal parking.

The Council, Planning Board and City officials will meet in the fall to further discuss the parking regulations.

•GreenStar Herbals withdrew its site plan for a retail marijuana facility at 200 Beacham St., but are expected to be back before the Planning Board with a revised plan in July.

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Encore Opening Procedures, Training Running Smoothly Ahead of Opening

Three weeks makes a difference.

That’s the message from Encore Boston Harbor President Bob DeSalvio when it comes to the preparations for the opening of the resort casino on June 23. DeSalvio said that hiring a majority of the workers to train for three weeks, as compared to the one-week average in the industry, will be worth every penny.

“In general we are in a very good position right now,” he said on Tuesday. “I feel like the construction, the hiring and the trainings are all coming together extremely well. Right now the number one item is about working on training and role playing on our own people in preparation for the arrival of our first guests. It was good to get the team in early and have the mass orientation on June 3. The access to the building was critical to making sure we had the necessary time to prepare.”

DeSalvio said many in the industry will bring on most employees about a week ahead of opening. Some might stretch that to two weeks. However, a three week, 20-day solid training period is unique.

“We have a full 20 days to completely fine-tine and have five-star service levels and standards,” he said. “That’s a big part of what we do. It’s an expanded preparation time, but that’s important to us…Literally having three weeks is pretty unique, but it’s worth every penny because we’ll get to thoroughly train our team members to that we can expect to deliver a flawless opening.”

Right now, workers are busy role playing, helping one another, and collaborating with helpers from the Las Vegas resorts – who are initiating the new workers from the Boston area into the company service standards.

“The next couple days we start very intensive role playing preparations with our team – we’ll eat at the restaurants and walk all of the corridors,” he said. “We plan to occupy every single guest room before guests arrive…We want to make sure we’ve got everything covered. By occupying the rooms, it gives us a chance to see everything to make sure it’s working – the air conditioners, the lighting and the TV. It’s a great way to get it done instead of waiting for guests to come in and have to bring something like that to our attention.”

That also goes for the kitchens – cooking meals for practice to make sure everything is working correctly and all of the materials are in place for when the first guests arrive.

DeSalvio said a good deal of what is happening now on the construction front is interior work and bringing in food and retail supplies.

The construction phase, he said, is done for the most part – meaning that the largest single-phase construction project in the state’s history came in on time.

“Construction is winding down,” he said. “They’re doing minor landscaping and doing some interior finish work. But for the most part, the construction has been completed.”

One of the more stunning aspects of the building, DeSalvio said, was the sunset views of the Mystic River Valley facing west. While the Boston skyline views are tremendous, DeSalvio said the views of the Mystic are special because they have never been seen before.

“One of the unique aspects of the building is the views from various angles, especially the higher up to you go – are unlike anything we’ve ever seen because there has never been a building that big in Everett,” he said. “Looking west from the tower up the Mystic River, there’s a sense of the real beauty of that area.”

Overall, DeSalvio said the team has done outstanding work on all aspects of the resort, and he said they are very much ready for their opening in less than two weeks.

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Thousands Report to Work at Encore Boston Harbor

Monday marked the biggest day to date for Encore Boston Harbor and its crew of 4,800 employees as they reported to work at the resort site for the first time, and existing employees and the executive team moved into offices at the Encore tower.

After many job fairs, interviews, discussions and trainings, approximately 4,800 active employees were brought on board at the new Encore Boston Harbor resort casino site on Monday, June 3 – the first day that work began in earnest at the $2.2 billion resort, which opens June 23.

It also marked the first day for existing workers and the executive to move out of their long-time offices at Station Landing and into offices at the resort tower.

From shuttle drivers to blackjack dealers to employee cafeteria chefs to Encore President Bob DeSalvio, most everyone with a job to do at Encore was on site Monday.

“On Monday, we were able to move into the resort,” said President Bob DeSalvio. “We now have 4,800 incredibly excited and enthusiastic employees preparing to receive our guests. This is truly a magical time in the building, as employees embark on new careers that positively impact not only their lives but also their families. I’m seeing a lot of smiling faces this week.”

Employees have been busy getting acclimated to their jobs for the past few weeks, training in massive conferences off-site in local venues and in Boston function halls. Monday marked the first day they could begin training onsite, getting their uniforms from the state-of-the-art clothing check system.

To date, Encore representatives said they have brought on 4,800 employees, but they are not yet finished.

They still have offers out to another 700 employees, and are looking to employee another 300 employees. That number includes dealers and others throughout the organization.

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Roller Coaster Resort Wynn Applies Uncertainty and Certainty in Run-up to Opening

In a journey that has zero time available for a detour, Wynn Resorts seemingly got off the freeway to smell the flowers last week.

Now, however, they seem to be back on the road to an opening on June 23, with President Bob DeSalvio telling the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) on Wednesday that Wynn will definitely open the resort at 10 a.m. June 23 – with the talks last Friday about a sale now being a distant memory.

Just when it seemed like the road was clear for cruising into the June 23 opening – preparing the building and conducting massive, quick trainings for workers in all facets of the operation – the company announced in a joint statement last Friday that it was considering an offer from MGM International (which operates the Springfield casino) to buy Encore Boston Harbor.

It was out of the blue, and few locally were informed of the new development in the constant roller coaster ride that has been the norm with the Wynn marriage in Massachusetts.

“Over the past several weeks, we have engaged in conversations around the potential sale of Encore Boston Harbor,” read the joint statement from Wynn and MGM – a statement that came from Wynn. “They are very preliminary and of the nature that publicly traded corporations like ours often engage in, and in fact when opportunities such as this are presented, we are required to explore.”

Then, late on Tuesday night, that all seemed to change with dueling statements from MGM and Wynn.

“Wynn Resorts prides itself on the design, development and operation of the world’s best integrated resorts,” read the statement. “At times, world class assets attract the attention of others and our board takes seriously its fiduciary duty to review such interest. After careful consideration we have agreed to cease discussions with MGM Resorts. We remain committed to opening and operating Encore Boston Harbor as only Wynn Resorts is able to do.”

It was as if the company risked it all on a roll of the dice, lost it all, and then won it all back.

The matter became quite stressful because the talk of a sale gets into murky, and time consuming territory.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) said it was preparing for a June 23 opening despite any talk of a sale. They said the $35 million fine for the company, the $500,000 fine for CEO Matt Maddox, and the other stipulations for training and the like continue to stand.

“The Commission’s written decision stands,” read a statement from the MGC. “The deadline for fine payment and notice of appeal is May 31. The MGC continues to focus its efforts on the significant amount of regulatory preparations required before Encore’s opening.”

The MGC also provided a list of things that would be required under law in order to sell such a property under state law – all of which add up to a lengthy process that could include the purchaser re-applying for the gaming license. At a minimum, written notice has to be given and a number of hearings and meetings must take place that look like they could take as long as six months. Likewise, one operator cannot own more than one license in the state.

Just how much of the former sale talk is inside baseball that has a purpose few will ever know, and how much of it was a real possibility, is hard to gauge at this point.

Few, it seems, know anything about what Wynn Resorts really plans to do.

MGC approves extended 4 a.m. liquor license for Encore

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) approved an extended 4 a.m. liquor license for Encore Boston Harbor by a vote of 4-1 on Wednesday, May 22.

The MGC had discussed the matter at its May 6 meeting in-depth, as well as the other numerous regular 2 a.m. closing licenses that the casino requested.

A comment period was initiated with Mayor Martin Walsh and Councilor Lydia Edwards voicing displeasure with the idea of granting the extension, which is only for those involved in active gaming. The last call is 3:30 a.m.

They can re-open at 8 a.m.

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Northeast Voke Invited into MSBA’s Feasibility Study Phase for New Building Project

Superintendent David DiBarri is pleased to announce that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) invited Northeast Metro Tech to participate in a feasibility study for its new building project.

Northeast Metro is operating out of a more than 50-year-old building that requires educational, capital and maintenance improvements.

The MSBA – a state agency that works with communities to support educationally-appropriate, flexible, sustainable and cost-effective public school facilities –= invited Northeast into the feasibility study phase to explore potential solutions to identified problems.

During the feasibility study phase, Northeast and the MSBA will determine a project manager and designer to conduct a study of the current building. Once the study is completed, Northeast will then apply to the MSBA’s building project reimbursement grant program.

“We’re thrilled to have been invited by the MSBA into the feasibility study phase for our building project,” Superintendent DiBarri said. “Our hope is that we will be able to construct a new building that will better meet the demands of 21st Century learning.”

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Fire at Pollo Campero treacherous, but controlled quickly

Fire at Pollo Campero  treacherous, but controlled quickly

A Chelsea firefighter fighting the stunning blaze created by Pollo Campero in Park Square on Sunday
night. The popular restaurant was a total loss, but owners said they intend to re-build.

Heavy smoke poured from the popular Pollo Campero restaurant in Park Square on Sunday night, with firefighters facing treacherous conditions that forced their evacuation numerous times as they tried to put out the stunning fire.

In the end, crews battled and made quick work of it – getting it out within an hour.

Chief Len Albanese said it is still under investigation this week, and that it was a total loss.

“The fire is still under investigation; however, I can report at this time that it appears that the fire started in a concealed space within a wall, then traveled to the loft space above the ceiling where the fire was allowed to burn for some time before breaking out and activating the Fire Alarm system,” he said. “This would account for the major fire condition on arrival even though the building had a working fire alarm system. Also, there were no sprinklers within the structure. The fire remains under investigation for a definitive cause that will be reported upon completion.”

There were no civilian injuries, but one firefighter was injured.

On Sunday evening, at 11:40 p.m. Chelsea Fire Alarm received an alarm of fire from Box 1134 for the Pollo Campero restaurant located at 115 Park St. First arriving companies from Chelsea E2 and L1 under the command of Capt. Phil Rogers reported heavy smoke showing on arrival from the rear of the building. C4 Deputy Wayne Ulwick arrived on scene assuming command and immediately ordered the Working Fire. Due to the heavy smoke and reports of heavy fire within the interior of the building, a Second Alarm was requested bringing companies from Revere, Everett, Boston and MassPort to the scene. Crews were ordered out of the building several times due to conditions rapidly deteriorating from heavy fire conditions within the structure forcing firefighters to attack the fire with defensive operations using blitz guns, hand lines and ladder pipes

The fire was brought under control within an hour.

The Boston Sparks Club under the command of President Paul Boudreau responded to the scene supplying Re-Hab and refreshments for the firefighters. Chelsea Police also provided traffic and crowd control during fire. Crews from Medford and Boston provided mutual aid during the fire.

Chief Albanese said it was a defensive fight for firefighters because the structure was too far along to be saved. Nevertheless, owners are determined to rebuild. “It was determined that the fire was well involved within the structure, and crews were ordered out of the building and proceeded with a defensive fire attack,” he said. “Given the time of day, a closed business and no reports of occupants, this was the safest course of action given that very early on it was apparent that this building could not be saved. Members of Fire Prevention are working with the ownership, who reported to us that they intend to rebuild as soon as possible.”

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Chelsea 500 Committee to Host Career Fair on Dec 14 at City Hall

Chelsea 500 Committee to Host Career Fair on Dec 14 at City Hall

The Chelsea 500 Committee, consisting of local organizations such as the Chelsea Collaborative, TND, the Chelsea Housing Authority, the Chelsea Recreation and Cultural Affairs Division, and Bunker Hill Community College, will hold a Career Fair on Dec. 14 at Chelsea City Hall.

The newly formed committee is working collectively to create a jobs pathway for Chelsea residents with Encore Boston Harbor, the $2.6 billion casino and resort that will open in June, 2019, in Everett.

The committee is working on holding jobs pipeline information sessions, career readiness workshops, case management, interview skills workshops, ESL, computer classes and much more. All members of the community interested in working at Encore Boston Harbor are encouraged to participate in the various workshops and classes.

The “500” portion of the Chelsea 500 Committee’s name represents the committee’s hopes to create a workforce pipeline so that 500 or more residents can gain the skills and support necessary to apply for positions at Encore Boston Harbor.

While Chelsea 500 focuses on the opening of the casino, its longer-term ambition is to build a local workforce development capacity, along with advocacy and job readiness services, to improve Chelsea residents’ chances of securing employment in the near term. Building relationships with businesses in other hospitality-related industries is another goal for the committee.

Chelsea 500 will collaborate with the Casino Action Network, One Everett, Somerville, Boston, and the MassHire Metro North Workforce Board.

(Chelsea 500, MassHire and Encore Boston Harbor will host an information session on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Mary C. Burke Complex. For more information, please call Sylvia Ramirez at 617-889-6080).

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Licensing Board Approves Permits for Function Hall at Old Polish American

Licensing Board Approves Permits for Function Hall at Old Polish American

A new function hall is slated to open at the site of the former Polish American Veterans Hall at 35 Fourth Street.

At its most recent meeting, the licensing commission approved restaurant and entertainment licenses for the proposed hall.

The applicant, Emiliana Fiesta, LLC, also applied for a wine and beer license, but will have to wait until there is an available license in the city. However, one-day liquor licenses can be granted for the weddings, birthday parties, and other functions planned for the facility.

The Polish American hall had a capacity of over 500 occupants for the two floors of the building. But based on concerns voiced by police officials, the licensing commission approved the restaurant license with a capacity of 250 occupants, limiting the functions to one level of the building, while the basement level can only be used for storage and kitchen purposes. The owners will also install licenses at all entrances on both floors of the building.

Even with the limitations on use, police Captain Keith Houghton said he was wary that the use of the building could tip from being a function hall to operating as a full-blown night club.

“This is going to be a challenge,” said Houghton, who also requested that the opaque outside of the building be replaced with clear windows and that a floor plan be provided to police and the licensing committee.

Broadway resident Paul Goodhue said he also had concerns about the proposal.

“I’ve watched the police clean up that corner of Fourth and Broadway,” he said. “You’re going to be opening up a can of worms if that ends up being a nightclub.”

Commission member Roseann Bongiovanni said she understood the concerns of the police and neighbors.

“We do not want this to turn into a nightclub, that’s not an appropriate function,” she said.

But with the proper conditions in place, Bongiovanni said the new owners of the building should have the chance to give the function hall a go.

“They bought (the building) with the same use,” Bongiovanni said. “I feel like we should give them a shot.”

Licensing Commission Chairman James Guido also stipulated that live bands can perform during functions only and that for functions of over 100 people, a police detail should be requested.

The approved hours for the function hall are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays.

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Chelsea Cultural Council Grants to Support Art and Cultural Projects

Chelsea Cultural Council Grants to Support Art and Cultural Projects

Chelsea Cultural Council has received $21,900 from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) a state agency, to assist public projects that promote access, education, diversity and excellence in the arts, humanities and sciences.

Council members will be available to discuss grant procedure and guidelines on Monday, September 24 from 2-6 p.m. in the lobby of the Williams Building, 180 Walnut Street.

Organizations, schools, individuals are encouraged to apply for grant funds that can be used to support a variety of artistic and cultural projects that benefit citizens in Chelsea – including field trips, exhibits, festivals, short-term arts residencies or performances in schools as well as cultural workshops and lectures.  Projects awarded must be implemented between January, 2019 and December 31, 2019.

The deadline for completed Online Application must be received by October 15, 2018.

Online Application is available at  www.mass-culture.org/chelsea.  Guidelines can be picked up at Chelsea City Hall, Dept. of Health & Human Services, Room 100 or find it at  www.chelseama.gov/ccc.  For additional information call (617) 466-4090 or email  culturalcouncil@chelseama.gov.

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