The Truth About Suffolk Downs

October 1, 2019

By Mayor Brian M. Arrigo

Between June and October of last year, the Suffolk Downs Development Advisory Group (DAG), consisting of 23 residents and public officials, convened eight times in public meetings with Tom O’Brien, Founding Partner and Managing Director of HYM Investments Group, the principal developer for the Suffolk Downs project, and the members his development team.  

City Councilor Dan Rizzo was an appointed member of the Suffolk Downs Development Advisory Group. 

Dan Rizzo never came to a single meeting. 

That might explain Councilor Rizzo’s thorough lack of understanding about the Suffolk Downs redevelopment project that he denounced in an op-ed piece in last week’s Revere Journal.  It certainly explains why Councilor Rizzo never offered an idea, never presented an opinion, and never asked Tom O’Brien--or any of his team members—a  single question during the productive Advisory Group process that was created specifically to air the public’s ideas, opinions and questions.

Playing to a public that he hopes—or believes—is uninformed, Councilor Rizzo embarked from the shallow premise that “few Revere residents” are aware of the size of the project.  That might be true by his own frame of reference, since that’s what happens when one doesn’t pay attention.  That is commonly called “willful ignorance.”

But it’s not true of all those who learned about the project during HYM’s eight appearances before the City Council, or during the seven Advisory Group meetings, each of which focused on a different aspect of the project, or at the DAG’s comprehensive public meeting about all phases of the project, or during any of the estimated 350 meetings between HYM and residents, businesses, and stakeholders in Revere and East Boston. 

When Councilor Rizzo’s 10 colleagues on the Revere City Council—including the councilors from the two Wards most directly connected to the Suffolk Downs project who each attended and participated in every Advisory Group meeting—overwhelmingly approved the Master Plan/Planned Unit Development Special Permit for the project, they expressed their full understanding and their ardent support for the project.  

The City Council—the men and women who ably represent all the people of this city—extolled the public nature of the planning process and the transformational nature of the project.  At public hearing, where members of the Advisory Group members expressed their thoughtful support for the project, or at the Council’s zoning subcommittee, or when the full Council voted on the project, it was abundantly clear that everyone understood the overall scope of the project and its enormous benefit to the City of Revere. 

Before they voted, some City Councilors relayed the positive feedback they’d heard from their constituents about the project.  Others cited the notable absence of any opposition at public hearing.  One councilor described how he specifically asked his constituents about the project and how they expressed “excitement” about it.  Calling himself a supporter of the earlier casino proposal for Suffolk Downs, the Councilor said of the HYM project:  “I can see this is a better road for our future.”

These Councilors emphasized the wide-ranging positive influence that the project will have on public transportation improvements in the region.  They praised HYM’s assent to the City’s demand that at least 50 per cent of development on the Revere side of Suffolk Downs be dedicated to commercial, rather than residential, use. They cited the eventual $43 million in annual taxes into the City’s treasury—which according to conservative projections will net $30 million dollars to the City after accounting for the City’s anticipated related expenses.

 The Councilors lauded HYM’s commitment of $350 million in on-site infrastructure, open space, water and sewer, and off-site improvements.  They embraced the employment prospects that will be generated during the Suffolk Downs construction there will be more jobs created at Suffolk Downs in Revere than now exist in Revere as a whole.  They supported the preference for job and contracting opportunities that will be afforded Revere residents and business in Revere, exactly as will be done for Boston in Boston.  They applauded the fact that 10% of retail and restaurant opportunities at Suffolk Downs/Revere also will be reserved for Revere residents and businesses on favorable terms. 

HYM’s meticulous planning for Suffolk Downs, every bit of which was on full display during all of the various public meetings and is viewable anytime on HYM’s and the City’s websites, concentrated intently on how the project will grow into the area during its four phases over the next 15-20 years.

Ignoring the City Council’s sweeping endorsement of the Suffolk Downs project; ignoring the public anticipation of a modern new neighborhood brimming with 40 acres of publicly accessible recreational open space, bicycle lanes, running paths, playgrounds, and shops; ignoring the outlook of tax revenue; ignoring the opportunity to unite the City with an 161 acres of land that have been fenced off from the public for nearly 100 years; ignoring the transformative influence that Suffolk Downs will have on Revere and the region, Councilor Rizzo turned to the lowest common denominator to try and stoke fear of what the project will mean for the City of Revere—what he calls “a traffic nightmare.”  

He either didn’t know, or didn’t care, that the project calls for over $50 million in off-site traffic mitigation that will reconstruct the Route 1A corridor between Winthrop Avenue and Boardman Street in East Boston and construct road improvements on Winthrop Avenue from Route 1A to Bennington Street.  Further work will address traffic congestion at Beachmont Square.  The project will create a desperately-needed interchange at Route 1 and Route 16 near the Revere-Chelsea line that Councilor Rizzo himself called “a tremendous improvement” during the zoning subcommittee discussion last November 5.  The project will include new traffic patterns at the intersections of Route 1A at Furlong Drive, at Tomasello Drive and at Boardman Street.  The Suffolk Downs project will result in upgrades at more than 30 intersections extending as far as Brown Circle at the intersection of Broadway and Squire Road.  This is all in addition to enhanced bus routes connecting the area to the MBTA stops at Beachmont and Suffolk Downs and some $110 million in roadway construction within the Suffolk Downs site.

Beyond roadway improvements, which will tackle  longstanding local traffic problems far more than it will create new ones, HYM will be required to pay for infrastructure improvements associated with their temporary tie-in to the Revere sewer system, not to mention significant related Inflow and Infiltration (I&I)  fees and major ongoing water and sewer fees.  When the project’s brand new and comprehensive sewer system is fully constructed and entirely connected into the Boston Water and Sewer system, the improvements in Revere will remain, constituting another benefit for Revere.

Overall, the Suffolk Downs project invests hundreds of millions of dollars into Revere and East Boston.  The Revere portion of the project merges with the larger East Boston side, and combined they have undergone—and continue to undergo—exhaustive public and governmental review and supervision.  The project will create an Innovation Center in Beachmont that will stimulate commercial and entrepreneurial growth in Revere.  It will result in infrastructure and transportation upgrades in the region.  It can be a catalyst for other regional improvements such as the connection between the MBTA Blue Line and Red Line and the creation of a new commuter rail station at Wonderland. 

We understand it’s an election year, and that it’s a common political ploy to oppose something your opponent supports.  We understand that inciting fear among unsuspecting people is a crude way to garner a vote or two.  But Councilor Rizzo’s negative spiel about the Suffolk Downs development project implicitly disparages the thoughtful analysis and commentary by the community as a whole. It demeans the input of concerned residents and stakeholders on the Development Advisory Group who, unlike Councilor Rizzo, took the time and made the effort to attend the meetings and exchange ideas and input with the HYM development team.  And it refutes the attentive and cogent conduct by a representative City Council that approved the overall concept of the Suffolk Downs project by a 10-1 vote. 

Ever since the closure of the horse track and the sale of the Suffolk Downs property became imminent several years ago, large-scale development of the land was inevitable.  The careful planning that has gone into the HYM proposal thus far, and the rigorous steps that lie ahead, assure us Suffolk Downs will be an advantage to our City for many years to come.

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