The Truth about Redevelopment Authorities and Urban Renewal - Carlo DeMaria

The Truth about Redevelopment Authorities and Urban Renewal

I’m writing to the people of Everett today to express my extreme disappointment with the reaction and behavior of some members of the City Council, and some current candidates for election, at this past Monday night’s Joint Convention.  My administration attempted to present the progressive concepts of a Redevelopment Authority and an Urban Renewal Plan, tools that will assist us in moving forward with our community’s desire for higher standards of redevelopment, specifically in the Lower Broadway area. 

Instead of having an open mind and listening to the presentations, members of the Council, and candidates in the upcoming election, opted to attack the ideas – calling them a “pipe dream,” a vision that will never come to a reality.  In particular, the Lower Broadway Master Plan – a plan that was developed through a joint effort by my administration, our consultants at Sasaki, and residents of the Lower Broadway neighborhood – was rebuked and the hard work and effort put into creating it was abruptly dismissed.  Instead a particular Alderman rose, not to ask questions or learn the facts about our Planning and Development initiatives, but merely to make personal accusations, hurl insults, and implore scare tactics.  Cursing on the Chamber floor and disallowing the Planning and Development Director the opportunity to respond, this said Alderman even hurled personal insults, accusing the Director of his inability to understand hard working businessmen by asking him if he had ever spent a day working with his hands.  All of these comments were not for the benefit of the City, or to help anyone learn anything factual about urban renewal, they were merely a show – to grandstand and invoke fear in the residents and business owners of the Lower Broadway area – many of whom were in the audience - with the misconception of things such as “eminent domain” and the failed urban renewal efforts of the 50’s and 60’s.

I want the residents to know the facts.  These planning and development efforts are not what the Alderman stated.  The idea that the City can re-invigorate the Lower Broadway neighborhood into a district that re-engages with the Mystic River waterfront, has public parks and open space that is designed for and is located near residents, and which can accommodate but lessens the impact from industrial uses and traffic flowing through the neighborhood, is apparently a challenging vision for some to embrace.  Not only is this short-sighted, but it diminishes the true character and quality of the Everett community, essentially telling the people of Everett and the Lower Broadway neighborhood that they are not worthy of a brighter future and a higher quality of life.  A candidate in this coming election, who spoke during the public commentary period, even accused the administration of considering the Lower Broadway neighborhood as “the ghetto.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I believe that the City of Everett and the Lower Broadway Neighborhood deserve a brighter future.

And I believe that the Lower Broadway Master Plan Vision is very much an attainable future.  The Vision has inspired Wynn Development, one of the premier destination resort developers in the world, to locate a proposed $1.2 billion development with the neighborhood on a highly contaminated brownfields site. The vision is one that hundreds of Everett residents worked countless hours, at multiple public meetings to massage and create. The Vision is one that has inspired the State to pay extra attention to Everett and potentially inject millions of dollars in funds to support upgrades to the district.

I certainly don’t want to be the one saying that the long-range vision for Lower Broadway created by the people of Everett is not feasible and is not going to be realized.  I plan to work hard to make that vision a reality because the people of Everett, and in particular the people of Lower Broadway, deserve a better neighborhood with a thoughtful mix of uses, including residential, commercial and industrial.

Creating a Redevelopment Authority and, subsequently, an Urban Renewal Plan to enact the vision of the Lower Broadway Master Plan is one tool the City can use to make the “pipe dream” vision a reality.  I realize there is a knee-jerk reaction whenever hearing the term “urban renewal,” which is a sentiment shared region and nation-wide.  This reaction is certainly understandable.  The terms “urban renewal” and “redevelopment authority” enact visions of 1950s and 1960s top down “slum clearing” efforts that led to such regrettable urban revitalization efforts in Boston’s West End and Scolley Square, as well as in downtowns of cities throughout the country.  These efforts, largely funded with federal funds, were short-sited and did not embrace the true qualities of successful urban neighborhoods – one that includes a mix of uses and users.

Modern-day urban renewal is very different from the mid-century urban renewal.  For one, there is not federal funding available for such efforts; so all funding must be deliberately allocated to an urban renewal program from local government resources.  Second, the goal of modern day urban renewal is to establish a shared vision for a particular neighborhood in need of targeted investment.  This vision, ultimately voted and approved on by the City Council in the case in Everett, is one that would likely not be realized under private market conditions alone.  Therefore, thoughtful, targeted site assemblage and infrastructure improvements are potentially needed in order to make the vision a reality.

To be clear, an Urban Renewal Plan for the Lower Broadway neighborhood has not yet been created, and can only be drafted through an inclusive public planning process.  The first step to starting this process, and making the Lower Broadway vision a reality is to establish a redevelopment authority.

I often hear from residents and members of the City Council – including the ones who were so opposed to the proposals Monday night – that Everett has missed out on meaningful development.  They ask - why have surrounding communities like Chelsea and Revere been able to attain hotels and mixed-use commercial developments like Assembly Square or Station Landing?  And the answer is – all of those communities have active Redevelopment Authorities and targeted urban renewal and development plans.   During the public comment section of the meeting on Monday, long-time residents and businessmen Vinnie Ragucci and Stephen Sachetta hit it on the head when they spoke about a Redevelopment Authority and how it has been needed in our community for the past 25 years.  Ragucci mentioned an example in Malden, where their RA helped to establish the now extremely successful Piantedosi Company.  And Mr. Sachetta couldn’t have said it better when he stated, “Everyone can drive through our neighboring towns and see the development that has happened and say why hasn’t it happened in Everett?” 

Well I for one am tired of Everett missing out.  I refuse to sit idly by and accept the same old way of doing business.  I made a pledge when I first became Mayor that I would work for progress and that I would work for results.  And I will continue to lead this City in this manner.  I ask that residents and property owners join me at a Community Meeting on Thursday, August 29th to have an open and honest conversation about the Lower Broadway Vision, a Redevelopment Authority, and an Urban Renewal Plan.  The meeting will take place in the function room on the second floor of GT’s Lounge, 23 Bow Street at 7PM.   

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