Cross the Alford Street bridge over the Mystic River and you’ll see Old Everett on one side of Broadway, and New Everett on the other.
On your right: the hulking remains of the Mystic power plant that owner Constellation Energy put up for sale last year. On your left, of course, gleams the new Encore Boston Harbor casino and hotel, a $2.6 billion anchor to what Mayor Carlo DeMaria hopes will become a hospitality destination district, leaving behind the traditional industrial uses that once lined the thoroughfare.
This tug and pull between the old and new has come to the fore amid the bidding for 45 acres of the Mystic property that Constellation no longer uses.
Matt Lattanzi, the city’s planning director, said that in recent months, the contest was down to two bidders: another energy company, NextEra, and the owner of the casino, Wynn Resorts. NextEra, Lattanzi said, seemed interested in a connection point for underwater transmission lines, possibly from a to-be-built offshore wind farm (though NextEra hasn’t announced any plans for offshore wind farms in New England).
Meanwhile, Wynn would be a logical buyer. It could improve the views around the casino by demolishing much of the power-plant infrastructure (an Eversource substation would need to stay), and the company has already started to develop 13 acres just to the north, directly across the street from the casino. The casino operator could use the power plant land to make the entire stretch more of a destination, possibly even by offering space for the New England Revolution soccer team. The Krafts, who own the team, have been looking for a home for the Revs for years, to move the Revs out of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and closer to Boston; Constellation’s site is considered one of the best remaining spots for a standalone soccer stadium.
It’s not clear where the bidding stands. Neither NextEra nor Wynn would comment, and all a spokesman for Constellation would say is that the company hopes to conclude the sale process by the end of March. (A spokesman for the Krafts also declined to comment.)
One thing is clear: Neither potential use — another energy facility or a sports complex — is a sure thing. City officials added the power-plant land that is now for sale to an urban renewal zone in 2021, meaning they can seize the property by eminent domain for economic development purposes. The message from City Hall: Everett’s long-closed-off waterfront is open for business to developers who would bring jobs and visitors.
But the path to a soccer stadium, or any other hospitality or entertainment-related project, has what could be a bigger pitfall. The site sits within what is known as a designated port area, a state-delineated zone that limits development to marine industrial uses. No housing. No hotels. And certainly no stadiums.
Last July, as the sale got underway, state representative Dan Ryan tried to address the situation: He sponsored a controversial provision in a state economic development bill that would have removed the site from the port area and exempted it from certain building limits imposed by Chapter 91 tideland rules. Negotiations for the economic development bill stalled out as formal legislative sessions ended, and a stripped-down version that passed during informal sessions in the fall left out the Everett language.
Both the Conservation Law Foundation and the Mystic River Watershed Association opposed Ryan’s amendment, arguing industrial port and Chapter 91 rules shouldn’t be circumvented by legislative fiat. Especially without a proper public debate.
The two advocacy groups argue that the existing regulatory routes to addressing these limits should be followed to allow for full vetting. State environmental officials regularly waive certain Chapter 91 limits for building size in return for waterfront access and other public amenities. Obtaining state regulatory approval to remove land from a port area can be a longer process, and more uncertain.
While CLF welcomes a cleanup there, the conservation group also views industrial ports as state assets to be protected — assets that, if they disappear, won’t ever come back.
Ryan said he hopes he can help broker a compromise with the environmental advocates in the coming weeks. One possible solution: a new bill that removes the 45 acres from the port zone, but doesn’t bypass the Chapter 91 process. Both CLF and MyRWA say they would still oppose this. However, it might be an easier sell to the Legislature, particularly now that formal sessions have resumed.
For his part, DeMaria remains eager for redevelopment. He said NextEra might not need the whole property, and would perhaps share it with another user. As for a soccer stadium, DeMaria would like to see public transit improvements first, such as a Silver Line busway extension from Chelsea to Charlestown or a commuter rail stop on the line that passes through Everett. (At least plans are in the works for a footbridge across the Mystic from the Orange Line’s Assembly station in Somerville to the Encore casino.)
DeMaria said the legislative measure that failed last year wasn’t crafted solely for the Revs. Instead, DeMaria said, it was about getting the highest and best reuse for the Constellation parcel, by encouraging a more competitive contest for the land.
The mayor grows tired of a waterfront that, in his words, consists of “smokestacks and shredders and scrapyards and tankers.” He says it’s Everett’s time to shine.
With words like that, it’s no wonder the operators of the Schnitzer Steel scrap-metal site next door to Constellation are apparently nervous. And while market conditions stymied the sale of ExxonMobil’s neighboring tank farm in September, it could be back in play soon. The remaining two Mystic turbines might hit the market after they stop burning natural gas next year. When that happens, Constellation’s liquefied natural gas terminal next door, so essential to importing fuel into the region, may no longer be viable, and could eventually shutter as well.
So the power-plant sale won’t be the last bit of tension between Old Everett and New Everett. In fact, that tussle may be only just beginning.