The Massachusetts House passed legislation late Thursday that could clear the way for Robert Kraft to build a long-sought soccer stadium for the New England Revolution on a waterfront property steps from the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett.
Without floor debate or public input, lawmakers added language to a wide-ranging, multibillion-dollar economic development bill Thursday evening that would exempt the 43-acre industrial property straddling the Everett and Boston line from a slew of environmental requirements so it could be developed as a “sports, recreation or events center.”
Two people briefed on the legislation said the amendment is designed to aid Kraft’s pursuit of a soccer stadium after more than a decade of searching, but repeatedly failing to secure a new home for the Revolution in or around Boston.
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said in a phone interview Friday that he’s had “informal” conversations with the Krafts about the site, currently home to a power plant fronting on the Mystic River. DeMaria also said that officials at Encore have been pursuing potential partners to join them in redeveloping the property as something that’s “very complementary to their site.”
“We are looking for something that’s spectacular,” DeMaria said of the property, whose owner Constellation Energy has agreed to put a large portion of it up for sale.
DeMaria said he’s aware of no “official plans” for redevelopment and stressed that the area needs more public transit options. But he welcomed the idea of a soccer stadium rising on the shores of the Mystic River.
“You have a lot of people who live in the cities of Everett and Chelsea and Revere . . . and in this area who love soccer,” he said. “It’s more friendly-family, it’s more affordable than most sports. If we can work on the transit issues and bring in something like this and truly light up that waterfront and make that spectacular looking, I think the people of Everett would love it.”
A spokesman for Encore declined to comment on the legislation or the property. Representatives for the Kraft Group did not respond to questions Friday.
But the legislative action infuriated some environmentalists, who said the amendment undoes environmental protections without any public input.
“This is exactly the kind of backroom, dead-of-night legislative mischief that breeds mistrust in government,” said Brad Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation.
Kraft has for years searched for a site to build a professional soccer stadium to host the Revolution, the Major League Soccer team he owns. But after 20 years, the team is still playing in 65,000-seat Gillette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots, which is too big for typical US soccer crowds.
“We want to build the stadium,” Jonathan Kraft, Robert’s son and president of the Kraft Group, told the Globe in 2020. “We don’t like failing and we clearly failed at doing that.”
The legislation comes at a time that other properties near the casino are also being eyed for development. Prominent Boston developer The Davis Companies recently reached an agreement to buy a roughly 100-acre tank farm from ExxonMobil, positioning one of the largest available development sites near Boston for a sprawling mixed-use project.
Under the legislative proposal, the property at 173 Alford St. would no longer be considered part of a designated port area, thus helping open it to non-maritime uses.
The amendment also would exempt the property from any “height, setback, open space or other dimensional limitations and requirements” under state tidelands law solely “for the purposes of a sports, recreation or events center.” The exemption would be in effect only if the facility is permitted for construction within three years.
“It’s a fairly dramatic change,” said Bruce Berman, strategy and communications director for the environmental group Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, who has 25 years of experience in municipal harbor planning. “But in a way, it seems somewhat inevitable given the success of Encore.”
Campbell, of the Conservation Law Foundation, criticized the move, saying that without any public process, the language “would wipe away fundamental protections of the public interest that have been in place literally for centuries.”
“There is a process, for example, for changing the boundaries of designated port areas,” he said. “And if there’s justification for doing it, let them subject their proposal to the test of that process rather than cutting a sweetheart deal in the dead of night.”
The bill’s emergence surprised even close observers in Everett. State Representative Daniel J. Ryan, a Charlestown Democrat, filed it among roughly 870 other amendments to the House’s $3.8 billion economic development bill, and House leaders tucked it into a hulking consolidated amendment that lawmakers approved around 7 p.m. on Thursday. The chamber passed the entire bill about 2 1/2 hours later.
The language must also pass the Senate before it could become law. Governor Charlie Baker is expected to support it should the language make it to his desk, according to one of the people familiar with the bill.
Its passage could help end years of fruitless searching for a stadium that has included attempts to build near the UMass Boston campus and on a city-owned tow lot on the South End-South Boston border.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone was interested in 2012 in bringing the Revolution to Assembly Row, across the Mystic from the casino, and also that year officials in Revere suggested the city could acquire Wonderland, the former dog racing track, as a potential stadium site.
At one point, a site in Roxbury was viewed as a potential location at a time when Major League Soccer began emphasizing the importance for its teams to have soccer-specific stadiums. But the talks never gained serious momentum.
Ryan, the amendment’s sponsor, said he personally had not spoken with the Kraft Group about the Everett site, and that he crafted the language with city and state officials and “people that represent Encore.”
“It makes the land more valuable. It makes the city and owners of the land more marketable. And they can determine what they want to put there,” Ryan said.
Not everyone in Everett welcomed the possibility of a soccer stadium. Fred Capone, former Everett city councilor who was narrowly defeated by DeMaria in last November’s election, said he has “serious concerns” about a potential stadium further jamming an already congested area with cars.
“It’s amazing what money can do,” he said. “We’re moving away from a community to a metropolis where absolutely everything is for sale.”
But DeMaria said he would be pleased if it was the Krafts who built on the land.
“If that were to be the family who would develop it, that would be a great family to be associated with,” he said.
Samantha J. Gross and Jon Chesto of the Globe staff contributed to this report.