As Suffolk Downs submitted the first part of its gaming license application with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) to develop and operate a Caesars-branded resort and casino in East Boston this week, City officials were at Monday nights Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association meeting to brief residents on the process.
City officials working on the Host Community Agreement said once the agreement is released to Eastie, the neighborhood will have 60 to 90 days to digest the information and then vote for or against a casino in the neighborhood.
However, residents at Monday nights meeting revealed a growing sense of frustration in the neighborhood over the city’s host community agreement process.
Anti-casino activists like Brian Gannon and Celeste Myers of No Eastie Casino said that the process has been far from transparent.
Gannon, who has attended several meetings the city held regarding the Host Community Agreement, said the meeting have not been well attended and wonders how any host agreement can reflect the true wants and needs of the entire community. Gannon also expressed a distrust of any agreement that is penned by the city given the fact Mayor Thomas Menino and City Councilor Sal LaMattina have been casino proponents from the beginning.
Others at Monday night’s meeting echoed some of the frustrations expressed by Gannon and others.
One resident said he finds it unnerving that there is no conduit between the community and the city as the host community agreement progresses.
“There seems to be a lack of any person, neighborhood group or official body representing the community during this process,” said the resident. “How do we know that in the end the agreement reflects what the community asked for?”
The Mayor’s Host Community Advisory Committee has held several meetings in Eastie and City Hall. However, the format of the meetings has been strange to many longtime community activists. The meetings are subjected to the open meeting laws so the committee meets in front of residents but simply brainstorms ideas among themselves with little input from residents. At the end of each meeting residents are able to give their two cents. It’s this format that has many frustrated in the neighborhood over the process and many wondering if the end product will be truly beneficial to Eastie.
To date, the few ideas offered in regards to mitigation have focused on stabilizing housing prices, support of youth programs and other minor suggestions.
Absent have been big ideas like funding being directed to Main Streets or other civic groups that could use mitigation money to beautify business districts, historically renovating homes in areas like Eagle Hill or Jeffries Point or pouring money into neighborhood wide streetscape improvements.
Some have even wondered why a Menino appointed advisory committee was needed at all given the neighborhood’s long history of achieving lucrative mitigation pacts with agencies like Massport, the MBTA and MassDOT.
“Like PiersPAC, the East Boston Foundation AirInc., East Boston residents have a proven track record of taking care of themselves when it comes to mitigation,” said one resident. “The community should have a group that runs its own meetings in order to come up with a host community agreement and the City should simply be a partner in this effort and not the captain of the ship.”