The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs isn’t ready to give the green light for Encore Boston Harbor’s expansion.
Specifically, the committee failed to approve the expansion project’s Final Environmental Impact Report. Encore Boston Harbor is already the largest casino in the state. The expansion would only exacerbate the gap between it and MGM Springfield.
This came shortly after the Everett Planning Board approved the expansion. And earlier this year, in February, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission gave the green light to Encore Boston Harbor, too.
So what was the issue?
What is the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs?
In short, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is in place to help Massachusetts’ environment.
According to its website, the EEA “seeks to protect, preserve and enhance the Commonwealth’s environmental resources while ensuring a clean energy future for the state’s residents.”
It’s the only state cabinet-level office in the U.S. that oversees both environmental and energy agencies, according to its website.
What was the EEA’s issue with the Encore Boston Harbor expansion?
It comes down to parking.
The EEA said there are “serious concerns” about how much parking will take place, should this expansion take place. It questions how Wynn Resorts came to its parking space total in the addition.
The expansion calls for a seven-story parking garage. This garage will hold 2,137 spaces. According to plans, 450 spaces will replace the existing parking lot and the remaining 1,687 will be new.
As of now, Encore Boston Harbor has a parking garage on-site that holds up to 2,914 vehicles. An 800-car parking space is available off-site, too.
“In its current form, this very substantial project is likely to have very damaging impacts on our climate and our environment and will negatively impact our emission reduction goals, primarily due to the proposed number of (mostly free) parking spaces,” Metropolitan Area Planning Council Executive Director Marc Draisen said in a statement.
Comments from the cities of Boston and Somerville also said the expanded parking is a bit too much.
And the EEA doesn’t want this to be the norm.
EEA Secretary Rebecca Tepper wrote that if approved, this “could set precedents for future development in the surrounding areas, which the City of Everett has proposed to develop as a ‘destination district.’”
Traffic is an issue, too
Tepper noted that the project “will add significant new traffic to the area.”
Tepper’s letter states that 92% of Encore Boston Harbor customers arrived by either their own cars or a taxi/ride-sharing service in 2021. The EEA wants that 92% to drop to 77% at the maximum and see 45% for personal vehicles and 32% for taxi/ride-sharing services.
Still, there is some hesitancy surrounding the use of public transportation, which the EEA would like to see more of.
What expansion is planned for Encore Boston Harbor?
Wynn Resorts has big plans to beef up the area by Encore Boston Harbor. Specifically, the project calls for a 142,000-square-foot expansion. That includes two hotels, a 979-seat theater, sportsbooks, poker rooks and a nightclub.
The expansion is slated to go directly across the street from Encore Boston Harbor. It will be easily accessible for patrons with a pedestrian bridge.
What’s next for the casino’s project?
Wynn Resorts will need to submit an updated version of their plan. Massachusetts requires that this version include “a comprehensive response” to the EEA.
“The Supplemental FEIR should provide further justification for the parking needs,” Tepper’s letter stated.
Additionally, the MGC Division of Community Affairs Chief Jim Delaney said that the gaming commission will still need to amend the gaming license, operations certificate and section 61 findings. Specifically, Section 61 revolves around potential environmental damages and steps taken to reduce those.