LIFE AFTER HORSE RACING : THE FUTURE OF SUFFOLK DOWNS

1 East boston people

1 East boston today

The new East boston looks to the new Boston but also loves the old : EastBoston2020’s vision enclompasses both

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Suffolk Downs’s owners warned us. If the site was ot granted the coveted boston-area casino liocebnse, horse racing at Suffolk would end. The license was not granhted, and horse racing will end.

So what becomes of the dite now ? A group called “Eastie 2020” has a plan. They have smartly framed it, avoiding specific development suggestions, focusing on principles to guide development of Boston’s most singular section.

Singular because only East Boston is divided from the rest of the vity by a bridge, or tunnels, with a toll attached. Singular because East Boston — like Charlestown — has no land connection to any other part of the city.

Singular, lastly, because East Boston’s separation from the rest of the city — from Charlestown too; it’s extremely difficult to get from East Boston to Charlestown by land — cleaves it to the North Shore, of which it’s really a part, more readily than to the city itself. Yet East Boston, like it or not, is politically a Boston neighborhood and is governed from City Hall, for whose occupant its voters have often made the difference on election day.

East Boston is no stranger to plans. It’s perhaps the most planned nd re-planned part of Boston. In 1830 it was a pleasant getaway for Bostonians seeking a summer weekend; on the part of East boston known aas “the Fitrst section” — facing the City barely a mile across the harbor — resiort hotels wited day-trippers. Then came Donald mckay nd his clipper sips : wharves were built, and for the n ext 90 years or so east boston waa Boston’s shipyard and its import haven. Soon enough whole areas of East Boston back from the “First Section” were built over with “three deckers’ along streets named after Revolutionary war battles, then, farther away, for poets; and finally, along the steep glacial moraine known (in classic developer style) as “Orient Heights.”

McLellan Highway, paved during the 1930s, cut East boston’s Mystic River frontage off from everyone as it beckoned North Sbore commuters into the city, by-passing “Eastie”and all that it had to offer. Soon enough the Harbor Ferry stopped running, and so did the trolleys that used to make Chelsea Street shake bebeath them.

Lastly, within my own lifetime, Logan Airport claimed at least half of East Boston’s capacious waterfront and leaned its jet engine noise on the entire neighborhood.

That was fity years ago. Since then, no plan has disturbed the peace of East Boston. The neighborhood still looks almost exactly as it did in 1960, even, in many parts, like 1900. When my Aunt Liz Mugglebee came back to East Boston for my Mother’s funeral — our family were East Boston folk; the second floor of 184 Bennington Street was our manse — in 1969, having left in 1925, she recognised almost every building, even the pharmacy at the corner of Brooks and Trenton Streets, not to mention Doctor Morrison’s house — he who as the neighborhood obstetrician had delivered all the Mugglebee babbes — on Princeton Street a block away.

Eastie2020 will change nothing in that central part of East Boston that isn’t changing already : its ethinicity and what rssults therefrom. Today, as Eastie2020’s Jim Aloisi points out, one savors restaurants of all nations in downtown Eastie, and not just these. Many cultures (even i predominantly Latino) flourish where not so long ago only Italian could be visited. One even finds young, gentrifying professionals in the area, with their signature boites : artists’ lofts and art shows, DJ music, zaza clothing shops, and pricey bistros serving very small meals.

It’s these folk, Aloisi tells me, whose presence in the neighborhood — a growing presence that he likes very much — requires a “new direction,” as he calls it.

This new direction gains impetus from Suffolk Downs’s closing but is hardly limited thereto. Aloisi envisons several zones of development — and much natuaral preservation, too. He lauds the beauties of Belle Isle Marsh, sited directly across upper Bennington Street from the downs, and the river that feeds it. Multi-cultural culinary offerings and natural beauty, in East Boston ? Aloisi has a point.

But mostly, to Aloisi, the 161 acres o Suffolk Downs offer future development o East Boston a model : close to public transportation, so that vehicle traffic won;t impede East Boston more than it already does.

Transit and natural poreservation are Eastie2020’s first two principles. Aloisi lists iuve. the others are : community engagement — development going forward must do what residents want it to odo; economic feasibility — yes, says Aloisi, “we recognize that developers have to make a profit. we don’t want unprofitable plans to leave scars on the neighborhood” ; and, lastly, job creation and training (as Aloisi points out, “Boston has been good at attracting 21st century upwardly mobile jobs : technology, innovation, research, academic. Why not here in East Boston too ?”

It’s all right there at EastBoston2020’s website :

http://www.eastboston2020.com/the-principles.html

and also images of what east boston used to be, at many stages, in its long history of game-changing development :

http://www.eastboston2020.com/images.html

Aloisi’s hopes represent something quite new in Boston devlopment. the rebuilding that we have watched arise in the City has almost always been initiated by the developer, not the community, and approved behind doors more or less closed to anyone but the Mayor and his plan approval team. Now comes EastBoston2020 with an opposite process : a community plan which it invites — maybe requires — developers to buy into before seeking mayoral approval.

Is it good for East Boston ? Almost certainly. The site is large, and so are the other plats the committee wants to build on. Projects so large cannot help bt sound a major new tone for “the Island.”

But will East Boston2020 be allowed its community-first process ? That’s more iffy. The group was part of the committee that opposed an East Boston casino and defeated the 2013 referendum on the matter. Mayor Walsh is singularly unhappy that that casino project was beaten that day and again, after Suffolk Downs’s owners rebuilt the plan, on Revere land only and with a new partner, by the Gaming commission, which warded the casino to Steve Wynn and the City of Everett,

Mayor Walsh had negotiated a significant mitigvation package from the Revere casino devloper, lonly to see its money and jobs denied. He was not happy.

How willing is Mayor Walsh going to be about adopting a plan advocated by people who defeated him ? Who cost the City big money and many jobs ? Stay tuned.

—- Mike Freedbeerg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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