Airplanes apparently aren’t in the future for state Housing Secretary Jay Ash.
Ash – the former City Manager of Chelsea – told the Record this week that he has no intention right now of pursuing the soon-to-be open job of director at MassPort.
“Secretary Ash is not focused on anything other than the work of the Baker-Polito Administration right now,” read a statement from his office.
MassPort CEO Tom Glynn announced two weeks ago that he would step down from his position next year after a run of several years at the helm of the airport.
That has brought on much speculation about who the next director would be, and more than a few insiders were pitching Ash’s name around the diamond. Many believe Ash would make a good candidate for MassPort, having served in Chelsea and knowing the surrounding community’s well.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would love to have a new contract and return to Chelsea so he can continue the work he started more than three years ago.
The announcement came on the eve of the beginning of his annual evaluation by a committee of the City Council – a process that will start Aug. 27.
Ambrosino is under contract for four years, and his contract runs out in July 2019, but the Council is required to notify him by January if they want him to return.
He’s hoping they do.
“I do hope they ask me to come back,” he said. “I have a great interest in continuing my work here. I love this city and love being City Manager here…The people here are wonderful. The challenges are interesting and it’s a vibrant and dynamic city with an exciting future ahead of it. I can’t think of a better place to be City Manager or CEO.”
Ambrosino signed his contract on July 20, 2015 in a four-year deal. Upon coming into the position, one of his first goals was to begin revamping the downtown business district, which was something that former City Manager Jay Ash had defined as a next focal point before he left.
Ambrosino said he feels like he only just started that work, and while a lot of planning and groundwork is complete, he’d like to see things completed.
“I feel like I’ve just started here, particularly with the downtown and our waterfront,” he said. “There’s a lot I’d like to see through to completion. When I was mayor in Revere, most of what I did there didn’t come to be until my last term in office and my last year there. It takes a long time to put your mark on a city.”
He is particularly impressed with the collaboration between the community and stakeholders like MGH, North Suffolk, Roca, the Collaborative, GreenRoots and so many more.
“I really feel that’s unique here and the City is lucky to have organizations like it does,” he said. “These are really tremendous community-based groups.”
All of that comes right alongside the upcoming City Manager evaluation process.
That has run a little slowly this time around. Though it is supposed to start in April, the Council appointed a committee but hasn’t had meetings yet. They will kick that off on Aug. 27, Council President Damali Vidot said.
The Committee is made up of Councillors Vidot, Judith Garcia, Bob Bishop, Leo Robinson, and Calvin Brown. They will evaluate Ambrosino on at least 11 points of his performance over the last year.
“It’s been tricky with our summer recess, but I’m confident we’ll have it wrapped up by October,” said Vidot.
She said a sticking point for her in any upcoming contract talks with Ambrosino – and in his evaluation – will be his residency.
Ambrosino said he cannot relocate to Chelsea due to personal circumstances that existed before he took the City Manager job.
Vidot said she feels strongly that the City Manager should live in Chelsea, but she also said that the previous Council didn’t require him to live here, so it wouldn’t be right to enforce it now.
“However, that shouldn’t be the norm moving forward,” she said.
The Chelsea Day Center in the Light of Christ Church on Broadway has been a haven for those who had nowhere to go during the day, the folks that formerly hung out all day in Bellingham Square, and though it hasn’t been perfect City officials believe there is still a great need for the Center.
One wouldn’t get an argument from those who attend the Center.
“I came here to get away from the stress outside, and I have no stress here,” said Ovidio Ortiz, who has been coming for one year since the Day Center opened. “Shelters in Boston are very far and they have too much violence and drugs. Here, they don’t have that. This beats a shelter. There aren’t any problems inside and I wish they had it Saturday and Sunday too. Outside on the street people are fighting and drinking and doing drugs. Not here. I’m safe here and I can rest. We need this here.”
He was but one of about 20 people who were at the Day Center last Friday, Aug. 10. The Center is open Monday through Friday from the morning until 1 p.m. Those who attend can get food, three times a week they can take a shower, and they have access to medical care and a host of recovery services.
At the heart of it all has been Pastor Ruben Rodriguez and Pastor Ricardo Valle – who shepherds the Light of Christ Church.
Rodriguez has worked with the street population in Chelsea for years, and made a commitment to shepherd the Day Center for a year until it was up and running. On Aug. 20, he will move on to new things, and CAPIC will begin managing the Center with Valle and his volunteers.
“It’s been a great run, but it’s also been humbling,” he said. “There are pros and cons to it. We have had problems outside, and we’re working on that. What’s going on inside, people have gotten a lot from it. There’s been 6,000 meals served, hundreds of showers and hours and hours of rest for people who had nowhere to rest that was safe. We’ve had hundreds resourced to programs.
“The best part about this place though is a lot of the people doing the work are the people who come here,” he continued. “They have taken ownership of this place. That’s very good for them. They respect it. I hope they continue to respect it and build this community when I leave and CAPIC takes over.”
Pastor Valle said little by little they are making progress.
“When they come the first time, it’s really new to them and they aren’t sure about it,” he said. “But soon they come and it’s a home to them. The people who do really good, we give them work to do. When you start something like this, people will be against it and people will be for it. You do what you can to help. We pray about it, but the City agrees we need this place.”
And that is the case.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said there is still good work going on at the Day Center. While the functions inside have been exemplary in helping people have a safe place and access to resources, there have been some problems outside after the Center closes. It has been a sore spot with neighbors, but Ambrosino said he believes they can solve that issue with CAPIC.
“The City still feels it is of very great need to have and overall we think it has been helpful, providing food and shelter and resources for a population we’re really trying to reach and engage,” he said. “There’s been some hiccups there with people loitering outside. We think based on our discussions, some actions we’re taking with the pastor and CAPIC will address these things. CAPIC will begin to be more engaged in the operation Aug. 20.”
Rodriguez said he is very proud of the work they have done, and is excited to get back to working directly with those on the streets – a calling he is very passionate about.
“You always are surprised who shows up here,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. I want people to know we tried to know we tried to make it the best way we could. I think it was a success. I hope as it goes on these people in the community that need this help are blessed.”
Chelsea announced this week that it’s partnering with OpenGov – a leader in government performance management – to further increase its effectiveness and accountability.
“Our new open data portal is a valuable resource for residents and businesses interested in understanding how their taxpayer dollars are being spent and learning more about the various projects that the City is engaged in,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “We hope it will also help City officials to make data-driven decisions by giving them access to information that was previously in silos.”
The portal, which can be accessed at chelseama.ogopendata.com/ already features showcases on property values, demographics, crime and Narcan information, and expenditures.
The OpenGov Cloud is an easy-to-use, cloud-based solution for budgeting, operational performance, and citizen engagement. OpenGov’s open data portal aggregates, organizes, and visualizes various data sets (like budgets, permits, and citizen requests). It’s powered by CKAN – the open-source standard that the U.S. federal government, the European Union, and hundreds of other agencies around the world use for open data. It also includes tools like APIs that developers can use to build applications.
“Our open data portal is a win-win for Chelsea and the community,” said OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman. “On average, governments receive 20 percent less requests for information after they launch their OpenGov open data portals. That means citizens are getting the information they need, and it saves governments time and energy that can be spent elsewhere.”
Chelsea joins over 1,900 city, county, and state governments, special districts and schools that rely on OpenGov to be more effective and accountable, including the City of Boston.
The opening of the fully-completed Clark Avenue Middle School is just about one month away, and work crews are finishing up the final preparations to welcome students into the completed new school project – after more than three years and two phases of construction.
“I think we’re shooting for substantial completion by the middle of August,” said Gerry McCue of the Chelsea Schools. “Teachers go back on Aug. 27 and students come into the new school on Aug. 29. We expect to have the school operational then. There will be punch list items to get to, but nothing major will be left.”
The completion of Phase 2 will mark the end of the $57 million project that started under former City Manager Jay Ash, and was carried out by City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the School Department.
Already, Phase 1 opened in December 2017, and students and teachers have been using half of the school since that time. The former building, the Old Chelsea High, had been completely demolished earlier this year to make way for Phase 2.
Demolition of the other side of the old high school started in March 2015, when the project first got off the ground.
With the addition of the Phase 2 building, the school will be introduced to many of the amenities, including the gym, an auditorium, a small performance stage, the library, technology labs, art rooms, music rooms, an administrative suite and the new front courtyard facing Crescent and Clark Avenues.
“In addition to things like the gym, there will be a smaller performance space and things can be done on that stage and the cafeteria can be used for seating,” he said. “Larger productions can be done in the auditorium. That’s important because the Clark Ave is the feeder program for the Chelsea High Drama Club, so they have an emphasis on music and performing arts at the Clark Avenue.”
The courtyard will be a very welcome addition to the school and the neighborhood, he said. The space was designed to open up to Crescent and Clark Avenues so that the buildings are pushed back and the space seem more open and inviting. He said the possibilities are endless for the new space.
“We could do outdoor performances or in the summer the City could have a movie night for the neighborhood out there,” he said. “There will be seating and decking in the courtyard. There will also be a school garden there too. There has been a big emphasis on school gardens across the district and the Clark Ave will have one too.”
He said that the top floors are pretty much completed, and many classrooms are set up now. He said the bottom floor is still having work done – as the contractor started from the top and worked down.
As it is, the action is aplenty on the site as the final work is completed.
“There’s just a lot of activity there now and it will be non-stop until the first day of school,” he said.
The Clark Avenue School is expected to have 668 students when it opens in August.
The Chelsea Walk – for those on the right side of the law – has been a place to run from.
Now, City officials, a local artist and GreenRoots are hoping to make those kind folks find a reason to stay in the Walk. After raising more than $58,000 and getting a MassDevelopment matching grant, GreenRoots and the City have now embarked on a public process to begin revamping the Walk – a long-troubled small stretch of walkway between the Cherry Street parking lot and the Broadway business district.
On Monday, the collaborators held a public visioning session on the Walk, complete with Chelsea artist Sylvia Lopez Chavez – who has been selected to design and carry out the sprucing up of the place.
Roseann Bongiovanni, director of GreenRoots, said the Walk was targeted as a place that could become very important to the downtown.
“We’re looking at murals, lighting, furniture and art installations on the roof fixtures to make it feel more friendly, inviting, safe and comfortable,” she said.
She said Monday was the first of two visioning exercises with the public, and then it will be full steam ahead. A community paint day led by Lopez Chavez is scheduled for Aug. 3 and 4 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day. Much of the changes are expected to be done in about one month, and the final result could be programming that includes game nights and more seating.
“I’m excited about a new look and design for the walkway,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “It would really make it pop. That the goal and it’s in a very visible spot.”
Chavez said she is very excited to get to paint a mural and refurbish something in her own community. A veteran of mural and public art work in Boston, she is now focused on what kinds of creative things can be put into the Walk.
“There are a lot of very good ideas,” she said. “There is a desire to keep the community fabric and to retain a part of the history of Chelsea. There will be a lot of color. That’s a signature of mine. The space seems very art deco to me. I’m thinking of patterns…I’ve looked at textiles of different cultural background. It will just flow from the walls. I like the zig zag line that is already here. That will be a starting point.”
Additionally, she is working with members of the community to think about what should be decorating the top rafters of the walk. There is talk about things hanging from it, perhaps lights, and maybe even colored plexiglass to make the look very unique.
Bottom line, she said, is to create a space where people feel comfortable and want to stay for a bit.
That won’t be entirely easy to come by, as reclaiming the space from the criminal element and the bar crowd from the pub next door will take work. Even during Monday’s event, there were some incidents that had to be ironed out.
Councilor Enio Lopez said he is glad to see it recovered.
“I think it’s a very good idea to beautify this space and to help in what GreenRoots is doing,” he said. “It’s going to look great. We need to beautify this area, especially around this bar where there are so many problems. It’s the only bar that opens at 7 a.m.”
The decision for whether or not to make the Broadway business corridor into a two-way street will come down to a vote of the Traffic Commission on Tuesday, July 24.
Several City officials have already weighed in on the issue, and it could be the most significant change to the surging downtown area in decades.
Two-way Broadway came about during the Re-Imaging Broadway workshops and study that were done all last year. Consultants suggested many options to improve the circulation and vibrancy of Broadway, and one of them was the possibility of making the street two-way instead of one-way.
The biggest backer of the plan is City Manager Tom Ambrosino, who has pledged that, if approved, he would stake his tenure on making the plan work. This week, he said he is still very much in favor of the idea.
“I’m a full supporter of Two-Way Broadway,” he said. “I believe the change will be transformative for the Downtown, both in terms of pedestrian and vehicular safety and in aesthetics. I will be advocating strongly for a favorable vote.”
Meanwhile, Council President Damali Vidot is not feeling the change. She said she appreciates the enthusiasm, but feels it’s a bad idea.
“I think it’s a horrible idea and one we’re not quite ready for,” she said. “Before the City goes changing long-time driving patterns on Broadway, we should deal with our existing parking and traffic issues and how to activate the businesses in that area. I appreciate the ambition and creativity of the pushers of this idea, but there are far bigger things to focus on in this district than changing the flow of traffic. You can put lipstick on a pig, but still Tedeschi and other businesses on Broadway need revival.”
Police Chief Brian Kyes is another long-time supporter of the two-way plan. Kyes sits on the Traffic Commission, and said he will support the plan.
“I concur wholeheartedly with the sentiments of City Manager Ambrosino on this important issue for the reasons that he cited,” said the Chief. “Both he and I have spoken at length on this issue and truly feel that this type of environmental design and resulting traffic configuration will not only enhance public safety, but also will be more aesthetically appealing and inviting to both the residents, visitors and business community.”
The Traffic Commission will take up the matter on Tuesday, July 24, at 6 p.m. in the Planning and Development Conference Room.
The blinking signals at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Broadway have not functioned for years, but after some recent repairs, they are close to being fixed now.
The question, though, has become whether or not the City really wants to get them working.
“The constraint on operating the lights has not just been the control box,” read a letter from City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “Rather, there has been real concern that having the lights fully functioning on the typical green, yellow, and red sequence will adversely impact the flow of traffic. Because it has been so long since the lights have functioned in that fashion, I cannot opine of the legitimacy of that concern.”
Two years ago, the City Council approved money to fix the control box on the lights. That work was completed, and now a small $2,000 expenditure is all that stands in the way of another working traffic light.
That said, the flow of traffic at the intersection is fairly smooth, though there is quite a bit of confusion for those coming onto Broadway from Clinton Street.
Ambrosino said the Council should make the decision, but he recommends a pilot program for 30 to 60 days to see if a functioning lights helps matters or hurts them.
He also suggested upgrading the lights to a sophisticated system using smart systems, cameras and sensors that can automatically change the timing of the light based on traffic volumes. Those types of signals have been approved by the Council for the Williams Street corridor.
He said if there is more development on the Creek, these advanced lights might be in order.
“I do believe that, if any further development is to occur at either the Forbes site or the old Midas site, an upgrade to a smart intersection at this location will be an essential precondition to such development,” he said.
A long-awaited hotel study commissioned by the City has been completed and indicates that the market in Chelsea could support and ‘upper upscale’ property if one were proposed.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino commissioned the study last year when a hotel was proposed on Second Street, and it wasn’t certain if the market in Chelsea could bear more hotel rooms coming online.
The study was done by the Pinnacle Advisory Group, and they indicated that a seventh hotel property in Chelsea could be successful – perhaps one that is nicer than all of the others.
“Considering the City’s current supply of hotels, we believe a new hotel, the City’s seventh, could be developed as a 125 to 150 room, nationally branded hotel,” read the report. “While we would recommend an upscale or upper upscale hotel product…we believe the ultimate product should be determined by the developer.”
By contrast, the Homewood Suites and Residence Inn in Chelsea are considered upscale. The Hilton Boston Logan and Hyatt Boston Harbor – both at the airport – are considered in the upper upscale class.
“I’m not surprised by the findings,” said Ambrosino. “The one thing we wanted to find out is if the city could support another hotel development. The answer is yes, particularly more hotels on the waterfront. That’s something I think we could try to encourage.”
He said he was also encouraged by the suggestion that the market could bear a more luxurious product than the very nice hotels already in Chelsea.
“It’s one notch up from the Homewood Suites, which is a nice hotel, and that’s a move forward for the city,” he said. “Whether we can attract that or not, I don’t know, but that would be our goal – especially something with a nice restaurant included.”
The study also indicates the best areas for another hotel would be on the east side of the Chelsea Creek and at the Mystic Mall.
“We believe the City’s seventh hotel should be developed in conjunction with support amenities in a location proximate to Boston Logan Airport and the new MBTA Silver Line,” read the report.
The study was forwarded to the City Council on Monday for review. No new proposals have been forwarded, thought the Residence Inn on has proposed an expansion at its existing property.
The newly established Community Preservation Committee will lead Chelsea’s use of funds provided by the Community Preservation Act (CPA).
Chelsea voters approved the adoption of the CPA in November 2016. It will provide hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to be used for the creation and acquisition of affordable housing, historic preservation, open space and recreation.
Nine members appointed to the Community Preservation Committee are: Bea Cravatta, Judith Dyer, Caroline Ellenbird, Jose Iraheta, Michelle Lopez, Yahya Noor, Ron Robinson, Juan Vega, and Tuck Willis. Five members, by statute, represent City boards and commissions. The remaining four members are appointed by the Chelsea City Manager with the following requirements for each of the seats: one seat requires expertise in open spaces, housing and/or historical preservation; one seat requires expertise in development, business, finance, and/or construction; and the two remaining seats will be for individuals with a history of community involvement.
Community Preservation Committee (CPC) members serve a three-year term in a volunteer capacity, and must be residents of Chelsea. The CPC’s primary responsibilities include: approving an administrative budget for the City’s Community Preservation program; developing an annual Community Preservation Plan; reviewing project applications and making recommendations for funding approval. Further, CPC members are required to meet with regularity and engage with community groups throughout the City as needed.
The Committee is organized by John DePriest, AICP, Director, City of Chelsea Department of Planning and Development. An RFP has been prepared to hire a Professional Planning consultant services to develop the Community Preservation Plan. The Community Preservation Committee solicits and reviews proposals for use of the Community Preservation Act funds and makes recommendations on how funds should be used. The funding of any project requires a recommendation from the committee.
For more information go to: https://www.chelseama.gov/community-preservation-committee.