MEDFORD — Casino magnate Steve Wynn expressed confidence Tuesday that he would break ground on his planned $2 billion resort on the banks of the Mystic River in Everett by July 1, dismissing Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone's environmental permit appeal as an "irritant" possibly motivated by fear of competition.
Wynn, the colorful 74-year-old head of an international casino company, visited his Medford offices on Tuesday to meet with local officials from Medford, Malden, Everett and Boston to share with them the designs and models of the resort he hopes to open before 2019.
A sprawling complex on site of a former chemical plant, Wynn said the new casino, which he is now dubbing Wynn Boston Harbor, would have a "floral theme" with gardens and a carousel or ferris wheel greeting patrons as they enter the resort. He even bought a sculpture of Popeye done by artist Jeff Koons at auction for $27 million specifically for the Everett resort to be located at the bottom of two curved escalators in the lobby.
Describing the era of the grand hotels like the Waldorf Astoria as over, Wynn said he hopes to bring some of that grandeur back to Greater Boston by building a hotel with the "fanciest hotel rooms in the United States outside of Las Vegas."
He also said Wynn Boston Harbor, which has not necessarily been settled yet as the final name, would allow families and children to enjoy amenities such as shopping, dining, conventions and entertainment without ever being exposed to the casino floor or seeing a slot machine.
"We're going to be a catalyst for wonderful change here in Everett," Wynn said.
Curtatone in February filed a last minute appeal with the Department of Environmental Protection challenging a key environmental permit for the waterfront casino. With a hearing scheduled for June 2, Wynn has halted all remediation work on the property and delayed a planned groundbreaking on the 33-acre site until the dispute gets resolved.
While acknowledging that Curtatone was an anti-gaming advocate who supported repeal of the state's 2011 casino law, Wynn dismissed the idea that the mayor's appeal was motivated on ideological grounds.
"A moral or ethical statement was really not logical and he's not an illogical person," Wynn said.
Wynn said his best guess as to why Curtatone has raised environmental concerns, including questions about traffic and air quality mitigation, is that the mayor is worried that developments in Somerville could be held to the same high standard of mitigation that Wynn Resorts has had to deal with.
"If someone had a hemorrhoid, we had to mitigate it," Wynn joked, telling reporters that he has already invested close to $300 million in the project without even breaking ground on construction.
Wynn said he has the utmost confidence that the DEP process will be resolved quickly so that he can break ground on the casino on July 1. His local developer, John Fish of Suffolk Construction, said the resort would take between 28 and 30 months to build.
Both playful and dismissive as he faced questions about Somerville's appeal, Wynn stuck his tongue out and made a raspberry noise when asked about the mayor's air quality concerns, and later taunted Somerville about winning its arbitration case with the city for mitigation as a surrounding community and securing the environmental permits required to build.
"Nehny neh neh nehhh neh. That's life," he said.
Wynn said he had no interest in negotiating additional mitigation funding for Somerville.
"We're not going to pay a dime. I have to have a reason to say we're done paying? We're done paying. Zero. The chances of the mayor of Somerville getting any extra money from us are zero," he said.
Curtatone told the News Service his appeal has nothing to do with wanting more money.
"He's missing the point. We've said consistently this is not about money. For more than two years we've said that. Today's raspberry is the same we've heard from him for two years. He's been dismissive about the concerns of the community and dismissive of the impacts his project will have on real people and their lives," Curtatone said.
Still, Curtatone said, "My door's open and my phones lines are open. Steve Wynn knows how to get here and I'm sure he has a phone."
Asked whether Curtatone had been invited to Tuesday's meeting with other officials, Wynn initially said he assumed he had been, but was told by an aide that Curtatone had not been invited. "No? Guess we're being petulant," Wynn said, calling the dispute "a waste of time."
Wynn's team earlier this month challenged Curtatone's assertions about the negative impacts of their project with a new study asserting that three Somerville projects on the Everett border will add nearly 63,000 vehicles to area roadways every day.
In asserting that the project's Chapter 91 license violates waterways regulations, Curtatone says the site contains nearly 11 acres of filled tidelands and more than eight acres of flowed tidelands. Somerville contends the project's 85-year Chapter 91 license exceeds the usual 30-year term. The city further argues that the casino's public amenities, including public open space, are insufficient given the scope of the project.
"The height and massing of the Project is extraordinary, if not unprecedented, but the proposed public amenities offer little more than the regulatory minimum," Curtatone's office wrote in its appeal.
The appeal, signed by attorneys from Pierce Atwood LLP, also raises concerns about project-related traffic, dredging in the Mystic River, and demands on Somerville's police, fire and marine services.
"We're not asking that Steve Wynn be held to a higher standard or a lesser standard, but the same standard that all these projects must go through," Curtatone said on Tuesday.
The mayor countered Wynn's contention that the casino developer will put more into mitigation than the city ever has for a development, pointing to mitigation done around the Assembly Square development that made it more walkable and bike friendly, while protecting access to the river.
"We want all our community partners in the region to do well economically. If they do well, we all do well. But whatever project it is, the project must be done responsibly. The positive impacts must outweigh the negative and we're fighting to reduce the negative impacts of the Wynn project," he said.
Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett, said he was impressed by the design presented by Wynn.
"It's bigger and better than we could have hoped," DiDomenico said. "Having something like this in my district is impressive. Having the largest single-phase private development in the history of Massachusetts happening in Everett is pretty amazing."
The senator said Wynn's willingness to invest almost $300 million in mitigation and permitting expenses and work through disputes, such as the now-resolved lawsuit brought by the city of Boston, should be seen by supporters and detractors as a sign of Wynn's commitment to the community.
"I'm good friends with Mayor Curtatone. I've known him my entire life. He's a good guy. I know he's trying to protect his community. But in this case I really believe it's time to get moving and people have been waiting for years for this to happen and the mitigation packages that have been presented to several communities, including Somerville, are much more than any private developer had to put up in the past," DiDomenico said.
Boston's economic development chief John Barros also attended the meeting with Wynn, and stressed that the city was now ready to be a partner to build "the best casino ever."
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who had filed a lawsuit to block Wynn, was able to resolve concerns over traffic in Charlestown and other impacts on Boston with a renegotiated mitigation package.
"We're happy to be collaborating with Wynn. It's going to bring about 4,000 jobs. We're excited for the local jobs and we applaud Wynn for changing the name of the resort to Wynn Boston Harbor. We think what's going to happen with water access to the harbor because of this, what's going to happen to redevelopment in Everett is going to benefit everyone," Barros said.
Wynn said he hopes to have water taxis from Boston Harbor available to the casino seven or eight months a year. He is building a floating dock to accommodate the Mystic River's nine-foot tidal rises.
Barros declined to takes sides in Wynn's fight with Somerville or say whether Curtatone was raising questions that had not been addressed by Boston's negotiations with Wynn.
"I think everybody needs to ask the questions that they need to ask to make sure that what ends up coming to the area, coming to the region, is fully vetted and all the questions are asked, all the buttons are pushed and that's something we shouldn't take lightly," Barros said.