Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, who campaigned against legalized gambling in Massachusetts and has doggedly fought the upcoming Wynn Resorts casino located across the Mystic River from his city, announced a d’etente Monday: His administration will drop several pending court challenges aimed at blocking the Everett gaming palace.
In an emailed statement, Curtatone said recent changes to a Wynn waterfront permit — prompted by a challenge from his administration — were good enough to satisfy his complaints.
While the city’s challenge of the permit did not stop the casino, it did shorten the term of the license from 85 years to 50, ordered Wynn to operate a ferry service it was already planning to run, and required the casino site to feature more open public space than previously planned.
“The city of Somerville successfully resolved a number of our community’s core concerns regarding the Wynn casino project through our recent appeal of the casino’s [waterfront] license,” he said. “For this reason, we will not pursue further appeal of the license via the courts. I want to be clear, our appeal was never about stopping the casino but rather about our civic duty to protect the health, safety, and quality of life of our residents. While we did not get everything we asked for, the appeal did yield significant and meaningful results for our residents, so we feel the process worked.”
Curtatone specifically pointed to the ferry requirement as a factor that will help deal with casino-related traffic, one of his chief concerns.
A city spokeswoman confirmed the city would drop the city’s four pending court challenges as well.
“With some of our key concerns now reasonably addressed, we do not see the need to further pursue in court the issues raised by our other legal actions, which will be withdrawn,” Curtatone said.
Last fiscal year, Somerville spent about $400,000 in legal fees across the various challenges.
Curtatone unsuccessfully campaigned to repeal the 2011 law that allowed legalized casino gaming. Later in 2014, just months after Wynn received the Boston area’s sole casino license, he filed the first of the city’s Wynn-related lawsuits, challenging the state’s decision to award the gaming permit.
His action was followed by a similar suit from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh that was ultimately dismissed by a judge. Walsh and Wynn made peace earlier this year while Curtatone continued to fight the plan, dramatically challenging the waterfront license in February.
Curtatone also backed away during the dispute from earlier comments in support of a footbridge connecting Everett with Somerville’s Assembly Square and its MBTA station. Wynn is paying for a study of the feasibility of a footbridge, which could increase transit access to a casino site without rail service, but Curtatone suggested he could not support the idea in service to the casino.
But when the state’s Department of Environmental Protection decided last month to award the license with a few changes to its conditions, things seemed to be thawing already. Curtatone embraced the silver lining by celebrating the changes. Meanwhile, officials from Wynn said Curtatone and Steve Wynn himself have been in recent contact, a marked change in tune from February, when, at the height of the tension, Wynn’s top Boston executive said it was unlikely the gaming magnate would personally speak with the mayor.
Curtatone had until early August to decide whether to ask DEP to reconsider the decision and opted not to, clearing the way for Wynn to begin construction. He still could have challenged DEP’s ruling in court, but has also now decided to forego that option.
The concerns of both Curtatone and Walsh centered on traffic and environmental issues, highlighted by Sullivan Square, the tricky Charlestown traffic circle that hugs the borders of Somerville and Everett. As part of an agreement between Boston and Wynn, the company is expected to fund improvements to the square.
Curtatone said Somerville will not receive any further funding from Wynn in exchange for dropping the suit — the city is already set to receive $650,000 per year in mitigation payments from the company — but that the city and Wynn “have entered into an agreement that commits both parties to jointly working” on traffic mitigation issues resulting from the casino.
“This is not a financial settlement, but rather a commitment to be good neighbors and to work together to solve the issues that impact both the people and the economy of our region,” he said.
The $2.1 billion Everett resort casino, called Wynn Boston Harbor, is slated to open in 2019.
“With all legal challenges behind us, we can now focus entirely on making Wynn Boston Harbor one of the most powerful job generators and economic catalysts to ever benefit the Commonwealth. We are pleased to be joined with all our neighboring communities in making this a historic development for all,” Robert DeSalvio, Wynn Boston Harbor’s president, said in a statement.
The news builds on a positive day for Wynn. The company celebrated the grand opening of its second resort in the Chinese gaming district of Macau on Monday.