Curtatone invites Steve Wynn to call him

Curtatone invites Steve Wynn to call him

Overture comes as Las Vegas firm ratchets up pressure

WYNN RESORTS on Wednesday ratcheted up the pressure on Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone to drop an environmental challenge to the company’s $1.7 billion hotel and casino in Everett, but Curtatone showed no signs of backing down, inviting Steve Wynn himself to call to negotiate a resolution.

“You know how to reach me,” Curtatone told a reporter in an interview. “Maybe you can give them [Wynn Resorts] my number.”

Curtatone, an opponent of gambling, was vague about what it would take to come to terms with Wynn. He said his opposition to the project is based on his concerns that the 18,000 daily vehicle trips generated by the casino would spew pollutants into the air that would be harmful to the 78,000 residents of his community. “It’s not about the money,” he said. “We’re not looking to be bought off.”

But then Curtatone indicated money would probably be part of any resolution of his environmental concerns. He noted Somerville is scheduled to receive $650,000 a year from Wynn Resorts as part of its surrounding community agreement with the casino developer, less than half as much as the city wanted. He noted Boston will receive $2 million a year and Everett $5.2 million. Everett will also receive another $25 million in payments in lieu of property taxes.

Pressed on exactly what he wanted from Wynn, Curtatone finally said: “I’m not going to negotiate through the media.”

Robert DeSalvio, president of Wynn Everett, said Curtatone’s comments were telling. “When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s usually about the money,” he said.

Yet even though the difference between $650,000 and $1.5 million is not that big for a project of Wynn Everett’s size, DeSalvio said Wynn Resorts has no intention of renegotiating the terms of its agreement with Somerville. “We felt that agreement was extremely fair,” he said, adding that renegotiating Somerville’s agreement could lead to demands by other communities to revisit their terms.

DeSalvio also said Steve Wynn would not be calling Curtatone. “Mr. Wynn is very busy running a global empire,” he said.

Wynn officials suggested that Curtatone was holding up the casino project even as he was overseeing development projects a short distance away in Somerville that had the potential to generate far more traffic. Wynn officials said the current buildout of Assembly Square generates about 23,000 vehicle trips per day, and future projects in the works could add another 62,000 daily trips.

“There is development going on right across the river,” DeSalvio said, referring to the Mystic River that flows by the casino site. “Why is it OK on that side of the river when it’s not OK on this side of the river?”

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria spoke in even stronger terms. “Their parking lot at Assembly Row is bigger than the entire site here,” he said. “This is just politics, politics at its worst.”

DeMaria urged union officials in attendance to call Curtatone to urge him to drop the legal challenge.  “Call Joe and say let’s end the bullshit,” he said.

Curtatone has challenged a ruling by the Department of Environmental Protection granting Wynn a permit to do site work along the Mystic River. The mayor also has four other legal challenges to Wynn pending, but the environmental challenge carries special significance because the project cannot move forward while the appeal is ongoing. Officials estimate it will take at least six months and possibly as long as a year to resolve the appeal one way or another.

Company officials put up a tent on the rain-drenched casino site Wednesday and joined with union representatives and the project’s general contractor to say that the delay was hurting the image of Massachusetts and preventing the state and the region from taking advantage of the expected economic benefits of the project. The hotel/casino is expected to generate 4,000 union construction jobs, 4,000 permanent jobs paying an average of $55,000 a year, and $220 million a year in state taxes.

Rich Pedi of the Carpenters Union said his local is struggling with 18 percent unemployment, and the Wynn project could go a long way toward reducing that number. “Enough of the nonsense,” he said. “Let’s start construction.”

John Fish, the CEO of Suffolk Construction, the company selected to build the Wynn casino, said the constant legal challenges to the project were sending a message that Massachusetts is hostile to business.

The bitter infighting over the Everett casino was predicted in September 2014 when Wynn won a casino license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. James McHugh, who was a member of the commission at the time, said he favored Wynn’s overall proposal, but doubted the company could overcome local opposition in a timely manner so he voted for Wynn’s rival, Mohegan Sun. He noted Wynn’s Everett project is surrounded by communities who oppose the project.

“I think that though I give the slight edge – and it is a slight edge – to Wynn in terms of its potential yield to the economy and to the region, that the likelihood of its ability to succeed on schedule to produce that yield is less than the Mohegan Sun proposal,” he said.

Curtatone said in an interview his opposition to the Wynn project is nothing new and criticized Wynn officials for waiting until his most recent challenge to reach out and talk to him. He said he heard nothing from Wynn officials for most of the last two years.

Steve Tocco, the president of ML Strategies, a lobbying firm that represents Wynn, said he talked with Curtatone at length before the city filed its appeal, urging him to hold off. During their discussions, Tocco said Curtatone talked about his dissatisfication with the city’s surrounding community agreement with Wynn, the casino’s traffic issues, and even the possibility of Wynn building a hotel or finding some oither company to build a hotel in Somerville.

Curtatone acknowledged Somerville’s surrounding community agreement with Wynn is a sore spot. Somerville and Wynn were unable to come to an agreement, so both sides went to a winner-take-all arbitration. Somerville wanted an annual community impact fee of $1.5 million, increasing at the rate of 2 percent annually, for 15 years. Somerville also wanted Wynn to address congestion at nine traffic intersections in town. Wynn offered an upfront payment of $150,000 and $650,000 a year, plus mitigation for two of the nine intersections. The arbitrators split 2-1 in favor of Wynn.

In his dissent, Douglas Foy, the arbitrator who sided with Somerville, drew attention to Winthrop’s surrounding community agreement with Mohegan Sun. Foy said Winthrop was in a similar situation to Somerville. The community bordered Revere, just as Somerville borders Everett. He also noted Winthrop has a quarter of quarter of the population of Somerville and geographically twice the size. Yet Winthrop, he pointed out, received $2 million in its surrounding community agreement with Mohegan Sun while  Somerville received only $650,000 from Wynn.

Curtatone said the city has spent $221,000 over the last two years on outside legal counsel for challenges to the Wynn project. He said the city is not receiving any legal funding from Connecticut casino developers, who would like to see the openings of Massachusetts casinos delayed.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“We’re prepared to spend what we have to spend,” Curtatone said. “We’re not going away. We’re prepared for the long-haul here.”

But Curtatone also said Steve Wynn should give him a call. “That would be helpful. I would enjoy talking to him,” he said. “If I was a casino operator, he’d probably be the only person I’d want to build it.”