City, developer to get rollin' on the river
By Diane Brooks
A stream runs through property where the city and developer OliverMcMillan have big plans for the riverfront.
The pedestrian overpass taking shape in the Lowell area marks the south end of housing and commercial development planned for about 2 miles along the Everett riverfront.
Never mind the fancy talk about Everett's renaissance, its need for a classy "front porch," the decades of hard work and million-dollar planning that have carried the city to the brink of a 216-acre land deal expected to transform its regional identity.
A simple word seems to suffice: Wow.
"It is a wow. It really is," longtime City Councilman Bob Overstreet said of a public-private plan to create an upscale urban village, cushioned by nearly 100 acres of wetlands and trails, along a 2-mile stretch of the Snohomish River.
Another councilman, Paul Roberts, seems equally awestruck when he envisions what future motorists might see as they cruise through Everett on Interstate 5, overlooking now-vacant properties best known for a 1984 tire fire and a long-gone paper mill.
"There's maybe a quarter-million trips a day on I-5, and a lot of people view Everett only from what they see from the freeway. It's what defines the city," he said. "I think they're going to see a riverfront village that says, 'Wow.' "
The council is close to approving an $8 million deal with OliverMcMillan, an award-winning San Diego firm known for developing creative, mixed-use urban spaces.
See Everett and its riverfront through the eyes of San Diego-based developer OliverMcMillan, which is buying 216 acres of former industrial land for $8 million, with plans to create an urban village with public spaces, residential areas and retail surrounded by nature.
The cover of its 59-page promotional brochure says it all: Something unexpected Something special that brings identity to a place filled with pride Incorporating the delicacy of nature, an understanding of history, and the future of Everett Washington
Dreamy photos of the site, the Snohomish River and downtown Everett are mixed with demographic data to create a mood of intriguing potential.
The complex purchase agreement would require the company to build at least 400,000 square feet of retail space — comparable in volume to the Tulalips' Seattle Premium Outlets — while adhering to cutting-edge environmental standards.
That's just the minimum. The company says it intends to build 500,000 to 800,000 square feet of retail space, along with 800 to 1,000 housing units that may include single-family cottages, condos, townhouses, apartments and hotel rooms. Public spaces could include a riverside amphitheater, a kayak launch, playgrounds, art, fountains and historic displays.
OliverMcMillan's private investment in the project could reach $400 million, said Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson.
The city in turn promises to invest an estimated $30 million to $45 million in wetlands and infrastructure projects, including moving a set of BNSF Railway tracks closer to I-5; relocating the city's animal shelter; building roads, 2 ½ miles of trails and a 3-acre park; and continuing its cleanup of the old tire-fire site by helping pay for a methane-recovery system and related measures.
The city could recoup its costs within nine years if the project generates anticipated levels of sales, occupation and property taxes, Stephanson said. Market conditions will control how quickly the site plan is completed, he said. Optimistically, it could be built out within five years, but if the market softens, it could take a decade, he said.
Everett riverfront properties
Simpson mill site
- 1891: Construction begins on the Puget Sound Pulp and Paper mill on the Snohomish River, giving rise to the adjacent town of Lowell.
- 1951: The mill, now known as Everett Pulp and Paper, is sold to the Simpson Logging Co.
- 1972: Mill closes.
- 1974: Crowds gather on the Lowell hillside to watch the dynamiting of the landmark smokestack. In "The Lowell Story," Don Berry writes that a heavy fog cloaked the riverfront — onlookers heard the blast's thud, felt the ground shudder and saw "a ghostly shadow slowly sinking."
- 1992: City of Everett buys 156-acre mill property for $3 million.
- 1993-1995: City cleans up land and removes homeless camps.
- 1995: City opens the Lowell Riverfront Trail, extending 1.6 miles north from Rotary Park.
- 1917: Site's first known use for trash disposal.
- 1949: Everett buys 5.8 acres from Snohomish County for $361.
- 1955: Everett buys another 14.5 acres from the county for $1,277.68.
- 1974: Landfill closes.
- 1977-1983 Land used for recycling operation, including tire storage.
- 1983-1984: Two separate tire fires erupt. The second one, involving 4 million tires, makes headlines as it burns for three months.
- 1991: City buys 33 acres on both sides of 36th Street, including the current site of the Everett Animal Shelter, from the Glacier Park Co. for $1.5 million.
- 1985 to 1994: City works with the state Department of Ecology and spends $15 million to clean and cap the site and install drainage and methane-collection systems.
- 1997 to 2000: City conducts engineering studies funded with federal "brownfields" grants aimed at redeveloping industrial sites within urban areas.
- 2001: The city begins building a four-lane railroad overpass at 41st Street, essential for commercial development of the riverfront. Environmental groups and the Tulalip Tribes file a lawsuit related to chinook habitat, halting construction.
- 2002: City Council formally adopts a "vision" for the riverfront properties through the city's Shoreline Master Program.
- 2004: City settles lawsuit with Tulalips; railroad overpass construction resumes.
- 2005: City Council chooses San Diego-based OliverMcMillan to develop the riverfront.
- 2006: 41st Street railroad overpass complete. Total cost: $17.4 million, including nearly $10.2 million in federal funds. The state, which chipped in $3.5 million for the overpass, also is building an improved, $43.1 million 41st Street interchange for Interstate 5.
- 2007: City reaches an $8 million land-sale agreement with OliverMcMillan, which plans to build an environmentally sensitive urban village on 216 acres. Completion of a master plan is expected by year's end.
- 2008: Projected start of construction.
- 2009 or 2010: Anticipated grand opening.
Paul Buss, president of OliverMcMillan, said his company is talking with several "very promising tenants," including a theater group interested in building a 50,000-square-foot movie complex with perhaps eight to 12 screens. "Our typical kind of project has a 'main street' and people places and food and entertainment and upper-end retail," he said.
A roundabout planned at the base of 41st Street, near the property's midpoint, would be a signature grand entry, he said. A residential community surrounded by wetlands and trails would lie to the south, on the former Simpson mill property, while the retail developments — and additional residential space — would lie to north, on the capped landfill and land north of 36th Street.
Everett's character would be reflected in the architectural designs, Buss promised.
"We drive around the community and take pictures of everything that's there and say, 'How do we relate to this?' " he said.
That's especially important to residents of the historic Lowell neighborhood, which overlooks the old mill site. Single-family houses and low-rise townhomes are planned for that area, he said.
Even the retail district would have a relatively low profile, Buss said, with mostly two-story buildings. The tallest probably would be five stories, he said.
Buildings generally would be set back from the water, partly out of respect for the Snohomish River's power during flood season. That would create opportunities for more riverside public spaces, such the city's planned plaza or amphitheater.
"We're not going to have a marina," Buss said, but docks may be provided for visiting boats. "You could bring your boat around from Puget Sound, tie up and go into one of the restaurants. It would be a great experience."
Canoe rentals and other low-key water enterprises also are possible, he said.
"I don't have any doubt this is going to become a premiere location," Buss said. "We're making a huge investment in Everett. It's a great city to work with; it's an incredible site. I don't think I can emphasize enough the vision the city has shown. They've assembled the land; they've spent tons of money getting it ready. They've shown true leadership."
The respect is mutual. City officials speak proudly — and with a bit of awe — about OliverMcMillan's promise to earn a "silver" rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, which looks at energy and water efficiency, natural drainage, indoor air quality and innovative building materials.
Buildings would be designed to take advantage of natural light in winter, to conserve heating energy and to stay cool in summer, Stephanson said. Pavements would be "pervious" where possible, using modern materials that let rainwater soak through into the earth.
"It's a little more expensive to build, but it clearly is the wave of the future," the mayor said. "It will be a very attractive marketing tool."
The state Department of Transportation (DOT) also is investing in the riverfront's natural health. The DOT's ongoing $262.6 million upgrade and widening of Interstate 5 through Everett will include creation of a series of stormwater-treatment ponds on a 13-acre site immediately south of the OliverMcMillan project.
The three ponds, which are to resemble natural wetlands, will be encircled with walking paths interlinked with the city's Lowell river trails planned for the OliverMcMillan wetlands.
Rainwater that falls on I-5 between Highway 2 and the Boeing Freeway will be piped through the Lowell neighborhood and delivered to the ponds through an aqueduct under construction at the foot of Main Street, said DOT spokesman Ryan Bianchi.
The aqueduct will be topped with a footbridge, providing an additional pedestrian access point to the river trails and new developments.
Councilman Roberts feels especially connected to the project. As Everett's former planning director, a post he left in 2003, Roberts oversaw many engineering and environmental analyses of the old industrial properties, as well as resulting cleanup projects required to make the land habitable.
"It should almost be called the Phoenix Project," he said. "Out of the ashes of the tire fire rises a village."
Over the years, Roberts heard city residents repeatedly stress their interest in protecting the riverfront site's vast wetlands. He said he's pleased that OliverMcMillan's concept honors that vision.
Residents are optimistic, too.
"Their intent seems to be to preserve the natural environment and trying to balance the growth," said Holly Gibson, a member of the city's Council of Neighborhoods. "I'm really excited."
The project's original visionary, however, has mixed feelings about the grand plan.
Many community leaders were dumbfounded in 1993 when then-Mayor Pete Kinch announced the city had purchased the 156-acre Simpson mill site for $3 million.
Kinch spoke of transforming Everett from a blue-collar city into a regional attraction by building a commercial and recreational center along the river. In his mind's eye, he saw a historic complex of relocated homes, a marina, soccer fields, perhaps a relocated Everett AquaSox ballpark and a plaza resembling a scaled-down Seattle Center.
He lost his mayor's job that November to Ed Hanson, whose campaign focused on Kinch's spending habits and city budget troubles.
"The people of Everett, the taxpayers, are the ones who paid for that property and made it possible," said Kinch, who wishes the city could retain ownership of the land. "I know there are a lot of plans for upscale retail and condos; I want to make sure that all the people who supported the idea don't get left out of the equation."
But he's pleased to see a variation of his dream coming to pass.
"I'm sure that once it's on its way, it will really add a spark of life to Everett that we've never seen before," Kinch said. "I'm really excited that it's finally starting to happen."
Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or firstname.lastname@example.org