Walsh breaks silence on talks with Wynn

Says firm's $150m plan for Sullivan Sq. is 'a little fuzzy'

BOSTON MAYOR MARTY WALSH on Friday broke his silence about ongoing talks with Wynn Enterprises to say that the Las Vegas casino developer is misleading people by suggesting it offered him a $150 million plan to deal with congestion in Sullivan Square.

Walsh, through his spokeswoman, declined comment earlier this week for a story in CommonWealth on his meetings with Wynn officials. But in a radio interview with Jim Braude and Margery Egan on Boston Public Radio on Friday he didn’t hold back, suggesting the Wynn plan relied on funds that would never be forthcoming.

“That’s a little fuzzy, to be nice,” Walsh said, adding later in the interview that the claims of Wynn officials weren’t accurate.

At a meeting on June 18, Wynn President Matthew Maddox outlined a way to provide $150 million to address traffic issues at Sullivan Square in Charlestown. On an earlier radio show, the mayor had said $150 million would fix all the traffic problems with the square.

The Wynn plan relies on $11.5 million in federal funds currently under the city’s control, $35.9 million already committed by Wynn, and nearly $103 million from two funds into which gaming tax revenues will flow over the coming years. Once Wynn’s proposed $1.7 billion casino in Everett is up and running, the company is expected to pump more than $43 million a year in taxes into the two funds. The state’s other gambling facilities will be paying similar amounts into the two funds.

Although Walsh suggested the two funds are overseen by the Legislature, they are actually controlled by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the state Department of Transportation. Wynn officials believe they can convince state transportation and Gaming Commission officials to use some money in the funds to deal with Sullivan Square. But Walsh, in the radio interview, said the two funds were designed to fund projects elsewhere around the state and not to bail Wynn out at Sullivan Square.

“That’s not how it works,” Walsh said. “His comments were not accurate. Wynn has not proposed to give Boston $150 million.”

According to the state’s gaming law, the Gaming Commission oversees a community mitigation fund that can be used to assist a casino’s host community and surrounding communities in dealing with a host of issues, including transportation. The state Department of Transportation oversees a separate transportation infrastructure and development fund that can be used “for the purpose of transportation and related infrastructure projects including, but not limited to, transit expansion and maintenance.”

Several sources said Walsh is correct that the two funds were not intended to replace mitigation funds casino operators are supposed to provide to offset the impact of their operations. But Wynn officials say the $35.9 million they have set aside for Sullivan Square is intended to address the traffic impact of the proposed Everett casino, while the remaining $103 million would be spent over many years and used to address long-standing traffic problems in the square that existed long before a casino was considered in the area.

A spokeswoman for the Gaming Commission declined comment. A spokesman for the Transportation Department said in an email that the agency intends to use its share of gambling tax money in fiscal 2016 to “support the Industrial Rail Access Program, the Complete Streets Program, and Transportation Management Associations across the Commonwealth.” He declined further comment.

Walsh is suing the Gaming Commission, seeking to overturn its award of a casino license to Wynn. The mayor insists Wynn’s proposed casino is located partially in Boston, which would mean the city is a so-called host community to the facility and residents of Charlestown should be allowed to decide whether they want it there or not.

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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.

What was not said in the radio interview was almost as interesting as what was said. Walsh’s end-game in his battle against Wynn is a bit of a mystery. Some of his aides say he doesn’t want a casino built in eastern Massachusetts. At times, the mayor has hinted that he wants more money from Wynn. On other occasions, he has said the dispute is not about money but about respect.

Throughout the radio interview, Walsh focused on the shortcomings of the Wynn proposal and gave every indication that he and the Las Vegas company are engaged in a negotiation.  He said he would meet with Wynn officials any time and added that he and Steve Wynn, the chairman of Wynn Enterprises, are both people who “want to get to yes.”

At one point during the interview, the mayor said, somewhat cryptically: “The Wynn folks know how we can work toward a resolution here.”