Revere can do what it wants at Suffolk Downs
REVERE — As dusk dances off the ocean by his beachfront restaurant, Gary Ferragamo invites us to dream with him.
Of Barbra Streisand and Sammy Davis Jr., who once played The Frolic nightclub on the beach here. Of the roller coasters and carousels that amused generations before. And of what could have been: proposed million-dollar waterfront condos the Great Recession swept away in one fell swoop.
“Revere is on its way back to its former grandeur,” said Ferragamo, who grew up in this city. “It needs something like a casino at Suffolk Downs to lead the charge.”
But in the pitched battle over legalized gambling that has pitted community against community, East Boston has decided its trash cannot be Revere’s treasure, and it is putting up a stink over Suffolk Downs’ plan to move its casino entirely to the Revere side of the racetrack.
Eastie voted no for a casino in its backyard, while Revere voted yes. But somehow Eastie politicians and anti-casino leaders believe they can dictate what goes on across city lines. When did what Eastie thinks matter to anyone?
OK, that was a gratuitous swipe at a Boston neighborhood that hasn’t caught many breaks, is separated by a tunnel and gets treated more like an annex — where we put Logan Airport so nobody else has to deal with the noise and fumes.
But the good citizens of Revere should be able to do what they want within their own boundaries. They voted overwhelmingly for a casino. Let them deal with the traffic, crime, and headaches of a gambling palace that Eastie residents shunned.
“We’re still a sovereign city,” said Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo while sitting in his office at City Hall earlier this week. “Our vote still had the same level of significance as the surrounding cities.”
What perturbs Eastie is the idea that no did not mean no. But Rizzo claims Suffolk had always prepared for the possibility of moving the casino a couple thousand feet to Revere if the Boston vote failed — something that shouldn’t come as a shock to Eastie residents.
“There were always conversations about that,” said Rizzo. “I don’t know if it was a lack of hearing, or a lack of understanding.”
It’s now up to our fearless state Gaming Commission to decide whether Suffolk Downs can go forward with its new plan. Commissioners spent Thursday listening to both sides. Revere residents voted for a casino that the ballot described as being built at the Suffolk Downs racetrack, which straddles both cities. The commission has to decide whether the yes vote is valid for a Revere-only project.
Suffolk Downs and Revere think so, as does former Massachusetts attorney general Tom Reilly, whom Suffolk has retained as counsel. “Everyone should respect the outcome of the elections,” said Reilly. “Revere welcomed it, and East Boston chose not to. It’s their right. It’s a very viable option.”
Enough said. He is the former AG, after all.
Like its Boston neighbor, Revere has its own hard luck back story. This blue-collar community of about 50,000 residents is among the state’s poorest. Its best days were long ago. Home to America’s first public beach in 1896, Revere was the Coney Island of New England with ballrooms, hotels, and amusement rides. But starting in the 1950s, business began to fade, and the Blizzard of ’78 walloped what remained. A beach cleanup in recent years revitalized the area, but the scene is nothing like the old days.
A casino, through a host agreement, would send a stream of new revenue gushing into the city’s $154 million budget. Under the original terms, Revere was due an annual payment of about $15 million if the casino hit certain targets. Because he is in negotiations, Rizzo wouldn’t say how much the city is in line for now, but he’s hoping to at least double the original amount.
What would Rizzo do with the money? A new youth center, a renovated senior center, and a new public works headquarters would be a start. As it is now, the roof of the public works building is in such disrepair that when it rains, employees cover their computers with plastic. Besides money, a casino would mean thousands of jobs. His city needs those, too, he said, pointing to the 3-inch stack of residents’ resumes piled on his conference table.
Many questions remain about Suffolk Downs’ casino proposal, but one of them should not be whether it can be built in Revere. The commission needs to get on the right side of the track on this one.