It was a fairly normal day in Boston. Move in was over, the universities had started classes and traffic resumed its 12 hour rotation. It was Sunny, about 80 degrees, 30% chance of rain in the afternoon. Then came the announcement.
Suffolk Downs Cleared for Casino Development
Within minutes the Boston Globe had changed their headlines. The Metro juxtaposed a royal straight on a smiling Mayor Menino with the cover-page-worthy-headline “He’s got all the Cards”. Rumors abounded. How would the city vote? How much money would this generate? Are casino’s in line with Boston’s sociological values?
Where is Suffolk Downs?
That last question proved harder to answer than you would expect. Suffolk Downs is a place (and an MBTA stop). It is also the name of the company that owns the horse racing track. Suffolk Downs the corporation also owns Wonderland the dog racing track, which is the namesake of the MBTA’s blue line terminus “Wonderland” and itself the inspiration of East by West by T. To clarify, Suffolk Downs (the corporation) owns Suffolk Downs (the horse racing track) located at Suffolk Downs (the MBTA stop) and also owns Wonderland (the dog racing track) which is located at Wonderland (the MBTA stop) in Revere (the city).
What’s the difference you say?
That’s the amount Boston stands to receive every year from the casino development if projections hold. The city of Revere would benefit from the one billion dollar development in terms of job opportunities and infrastructure improvements. Sounds great, but the problem is who gets to decide if the casino is built. The decision must be made as a public referendum and because Suffolk Downs rests on the border of Revere and East Boston residents from BU to JP might have a say if the casino gets built at all. On one side is the Boston City Council President, Stephen Murphy who recently quipped “East Boston is an Island,” implying that East Boston alone should make the decision. His opponents claim that the whole city would be affected and therefore should be able to weigh in.
Suffolk Downs is the Commonwealth Avenue of the Blue Line, but instead of being squeezed by Brookline and the Charles River Suffolk Downs is bordered on both sides by water: the Chelsea River and the Atlantic Ocean. While not officially an island it is quite isolated.The proposed casino would be accessible by one medium-sized street and the T station. There are no bus connections and the major highways bypass it to the north and south.
In fact, this isolation suggests something interesting. Government Center has long been the disembarkation point of the East Boston Neighborhoods (taken here to include Chelsea and Revere). The Blue Line was once the Lynn Railroad – Suffolk Downs was named the Belle Isle Station in reference to the reservation nearby – and this railroad functioned as a way for immigrants in the West End, North End and Scollay Square to move away from the center of the city. The destruction of those neighborhoods in the 50′s stopped that migration pattern and the flow is now reversed. Many families, founded by but not necessarily immigrants themselves, travel into Government Center every day to work. There is a reason why Spanish, in all its beautiful South American variations, is the primary language underneath City Hall during commuting hours.
But a casino. That changes everything. For the first time since the 1950′s the flow of people to and from East Boston would likely be equal. Suffolk Downs’ isolation means the Blue Line will be the primary form of transportation to a casino expected to attract thousands of visitors a day. Where will the parking garages, hotels and restaurants be built? Some will certainly be built near the Suffolk Downs T Stop. But I would be willing to bet that most of them would be built in Government Center.
Is East Boston an Island?
No. Ten years from now the most luxurious hotels in Boston might be in Government Center.
But the effect won’t extend much beyond that.Wonderland, Suffolk Downs, Maverick and Government Center – they’re all connected by a shared cultural history, a history that is unique to the communities scattered along the Blue Line.
Perhaps Council President Murphy should have asserted that the Blue Line is an island.
Because it is. And that’s precisely why I shouldn’t be allowed to vote on the Suffolk Downs Casino.