The Baker administration withheld a crucial permit from Wynn Resorts earlier this month after accusing the MBTA of improperly selling land to the casino company — a rare interagency dispute that spilled into the public eye.
Now, the state Department of Transportation says it’s getting close to a solution to the botched land sale in Everett: Spokesman Michael Verseckes said his agency is working with Wynn to finalize a plan to put the land in escrow until after the environmental process is done.
The escrow concept is one of two options that Matthew Beaton, Governor Charlie Baker’s energy and environmental affairs secretary, outlined on April 3 when he declined to issue a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act approval for the project. Beaton wrote that the MBTA should not have sold the 1.75 acres before his environmental review was complete.
The other alternative Beaton mentioned: Reverse the $6 million transfer.
A spokesman for Nevada-based Wynn declined to comment, other than to say the company is working through the elements raised in Beaton’s letter. Other issues in the letter: traffic at nearby Sullivan Square in Charlestown and the level of Wynn subsidies for the Orange Line.
Putting public land into escrow after it has already been sold is an unusual move, said Melanie Hagopian, an Arlington attorney who specializes in real estate and land-use law. “I’ve been practicing for 30 years and I’ve not seen it happen,” Hagopian said.
Verseckes said this is the first time the DOT or the MBTA has put together an escrow agreement like this. It would stipulate that Wynn must deed the property back to the MBTA if the environmental review is not successfully completed, he said. Likewise, if that happens, the MBTA’s $6 million would revert back to the developer.
Wynn wanted part of the MBTA bus repair property to use as a main entrance for the casino property, one that avoids going through the Boston city border, which extends to the Everett side of the Mystic River. By not crossing into the city, Wynn would give the city of Boston far less power over the project. A second entrance would also go through some of the property the MBTA sold.
The MBTA reached a plan to sell the land to Wynn for $6 million last summer and then put the property up for sale publicly to see if any bidders would be willing to beat that offer. The MBTA concluded the process after no bidders came forward.
Hagopian said it doesn’t appear the rules of public land disposition were followed. “Assuming there was no interest by a public authority, it should have gone out to bid publicly in a process that didn’t favor any one private entity,” she said.
In an October 2013 memo, then-transportation secretary Richard Davey suggested the value to the MBTA of a Wynn proposal would be $30 million. At the time, Wynn was considering paying for improvements to the MBTA site, including the construction of a parking garage. That $30 million figure, according to Verseckes, included the value of those improvements at the MBTA site that Wynn would have funded and more land than what was eventually sold.
In September, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission chose Wynn’s project over Mohegan Sun’s rival plan to build a casino at Suffolk Downs.