Charlestown 2019 – Year in Review – Many Issues Continue, Some New One’s Surprise Everyone

Civic life in Charlestown blossomed once again in 2019 as the Town came alive with activity from January to June to December. There were no shortage of events and action – with a lively Bunker Hill month, the beginning of the Master Plan process, the opening of the casino next door, a Little League City-wide Championship and the Kitchen Kup meeting the Stanley Cup. Truly, it was a fun and argumentative year – which is a good thing here. The following are just a few highlights of the news from 2019.

•Little Mystic Parcels – The Boston Planning and Development Agency commit to holding a public process before re-leasing the Little Mystic parcels to MassPort. However, any hopes of turning the lots into community park space – as many had hoped – are quickly dashed at a City meeting dominated by workers from the AutoPort and City officials. In the end, MassPort gets a new lease on the properties in November, but has to commit to a number of community mitigation pieces – including a new rail trail project along Medford Street and the Mystic River waterfront.

•Olivia Ambrose Abducted – The City was turned upside down in January when Olivia Ambrose left Hennessey’s Bar in Faneuil Hall and was taken to a Charlestown apartment in the Bunker Hill development where she said she was held captive for days. Police used a tracking device on her phone to locate her on Walford Way, and took Victor Pena into custody at the time. He was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital at his first court hearing in Charlestown for an evaluation. His case is ongoing, but family members said he has been slow since birth, and they do not believe him to be guilty. Police sharply disagree and believe he is responsible for his actions. The case leads to a city-wide task force study on nightclub safety, which is presented to the public with recommendations in December.

•The Master Plan – Few things delved more into what to call something than the Master Plan process, or was it a strategic planning initiative? It depended on who one spoke to in 2019. While many in the community battled with the City on whether it was called a Master Plan or not, the bulk of the matter became about how to plan for the Town. A new process was laid out in the fall with several public and semi-private meetings taking place throughout the community to “inform” the process and set boundaries. The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) will begin the official study of the Town in late January.

•Bunker Hill Development Re-Start – Mayor Martin Walsh ensured the Bunker Hill Development project would not stall once again when he committed $30 million in City Capital funds to the project in a ceremony on the basketball courts April 24. The project, a partnership between the Boston Housing Authority, the Corcoran Companies and Leggat McCall, continued meetings with the community in the late spring, and in November. They plan to file their project with the City in January at some point, with a possible groundbreaking in late 2020.

•New Superintendent, New School Outlook – New Supt. Brenda Cassellius made her first Boston appearance on May 8 during the Mayor’s Coffee Hour at Eden Street Park. Cassellius embarked on a whirlwind tour of the City’s schools after reporting for work over the summer, including spending some major time trying to figure out issues confronting parents in Charlestown – that being seats for incoming students. Cassellius held a number of meetings in the Town, including a very intense one in the fall. That, however, was followed with a detailed and upgraded timeline for ending the current role of the Edwards Middle School. That school will not re-enroll for next school year, and the space is likely to become available to help house the glut of new, young students in the Town. The news was bolstered by good news for the Harvard-Kent, which Cassellius announced in May would get an extension to sixth grade in the 2020-21 school year. The schools issue will be an ongoing community conversation in 2020.

•Jubilee 160 – St. Francis De Sales Church celebrates 160 years in a Jubilee 160 event on May 19. Father Daniel Mahoney said it was a wonderful celebration planned by long-time members and new residents of the Town. Cardinal Sean O’Malley presided over the special Mass with Father Mahoney.

•Rainy Parade – A little rain was no match for the Battle of Bunker Hill Day Parade this year on June 16. Residents came in large numbers despite the intermittent rain, and Chief Marshal Milton Lashus famously said, “No rain can ruin a Townie parade.”

•Encore Boston Harbor Opening – The opening of the Encore Boston Harbor took place on June 23 to great pomp and circumstance on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning. However, the opening locally started in February when Encore began holding its first massive job fairs in Boston’s Hynes Convention Center. Thousands were hired between February and May, with most reporting for their first day of work in early June. The excitement continued to build as the Encore Runner shuttles started to appear on the streets of Chelsea, followed by Encore buses coming and going from the Malden Center and Wellington T Stops.

On June 23, with Encore luxury yachts bringing visitors to the front door by water, and shuttles bringing visitors to the resort from public transportation hubs – dignitaries from the City, state and Wynn Resorts were on hand to welcome everyone inside. The doors opened as unique day-light fireworks exploded overhead in the cobalt blue sky, and ‘Nothing But the Best’ by Frank Sinatra played over the outdoor loudspeakers.

•Encore Post-Opening – If the build-up and opening of the casino was a major story of the year, a close second was the casino after its opening. While many – for years – predicted monstrous traffic jams daily at all hours caused by the casino, that just never appeared. After hundreds of hours of preparing for the worst, the worst never came. Still, traffic is very light at the resort in most hours – aside from a few busy periods. It was the surprise of all surprises for most. That surprise was followed up by the soft performance of the resort’s restaurants, hotel and retail offerings – which were expected to set a new standard for performance and quality in Greater Boston. While the casino portion of the resort has performed ahead of many other casinos around the United States, the hotel and restaurants – in particular – still seem to struggle to attract guests consistently. A new, surprise change in the leadership team last fall came without great notice, putting out long-time President Bob DeSalvio. That change is still unfolding, and it’s clear the resort is still testing the waters on how to brand and become Boston’s resort of choice. On the plus side, though, Encore quickly became a destination for boxing events, unique celebrity concerts and world-class nightclub DJs – such as Shaquille O’Neal, who highlighted the opening of the Memoire Nightclub on the property.

•Navy Yard Activation – The summer months brought new “activation” plans for the Navy Yard. A once-controversial “beer garden” ends up being a hit locally and regionally as The Anchor Event Space at the fountain in Shipyard Park. However, a proposal for a Tall Ship Restaurant fizzles out for the owners of Pier 6 Restaurant group after a great deal of discussion and controversy. Another plan to have kayak and canoe rentals also doesn’t get steam due to infrastructure costs of the docking.

•No rally here – A strange and upsetting ‘Revolution’ rally by the Patriot Front in and around the Bunker Hill Monument disturbs residents and National Parks officials over the July 4th holiday weekend. The rally looked to be simply for film, as those marching in under the cloak of darkness appeared to be making a film, and fled quickly when confronted by real patriotic Townies.

In one of the strangest moments of 2019, a member of Super Happy Fun America- which organized a Labor Day weekend Straight Pride Parade in Copley Square – faces off with an agitator who opposed them during a press conference on the grounds of the Bunker Hill Monument on Thursday evening, Aug. 29, while being supervised by Santa Claus. It was a moment. The biggest question from all: Why was Santa there? That mystery was never answered and will carry on into 2020.

•Kup and Cup – The Kitchen Kup got even more exciting in the first weekend of August when it came face-to-face with the real Stanley Cup in New Hampshire courtesy of former Kitchen Kup player – who won the Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019 – Zach Sanford. Kup Founder Joe Brennand said it was the first time the two Kups had met and it was a fantastic moment. In Kup action, Charlestown’s Brendan Collier had a dynamite team and rolled through the tournament easily, but then hit a brick wall in the championships, losing twice to the veteran Russo Team of Medford. Sanford had played with the Russo Team in the Kup some years ago, and welcomed his old teammates for the chance meeting.

•New Eliot School – The Eliot Innovation School in the North End, with about one-third of the students being from Charlestown, unveils a brand new building on Commercial Street for the start of the school year. The building was formerly a luxury furniture store, but has been built into a marvelous learning space with natural light, modern classrooms and the best technology.

•Safe Injection – The Charlestown MGH Health Center presents a mock-up safe injection site at its High Street facility in October. The mock-up included a panel where many recovery professionals stated it might be a good idea for those struggling with opioids.

•Flaherty tops Town ticket – The City Election reveals an easy victory for Councilor Lydia Edwards, who is unopposed. However, the at-large race is too close to call for the final seat, with Alejandra St. Guillen and Julia Mejia within 10 votes at the end of the night. In a recount later in December, Mejia is revealed to have won by one vote. Neither candidate scored well in the Charlestown vote, with Councilor Michael Flaherty topping the ticket in the Town.

•Kent Wins – The Harvard-Kent School wins the 2019 EdVestor prize in a competitive process with several other improving, and high-achieving, elementary schools in Boston. They were awarded the School on the Move Prize in a ceremony on Oct. 31.

•The Peace Park Saga – The Peace Park on Lowney Way made big news this year as it was alleged that the park was desecrated by some neighbors. The Park was dedicated in 2017 as a tribute to those lost to violence or overdose over the years. However, over the summer, organizers of the Park – the Turn It Around youth group – found that many of the features had been removed. Police identified a suspect, and she was charged with one count in late November. The woman is to be arraigned in West Roxbury District Court on the charge. Her attorney denied his client was responsible.

•Townie Santa Returns – This year, on Christmas, the giving spirit was alive in the Town with the Warren Tavern’s Toys for Tots program and the Kennedy Center Christmas distribution party being very successful. However, the Bunker Hill Associates and many partners revived the long-dormant Townie Santa effort – holding a holiday luncheon for senior citizens and veterans, and distributing hot meals to the elderly and veterans on Dec. 22. Organizers said it was a great first step, and they plan to be back next year in a bigger and better effort.

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