Here's what going on with Everett's plans for the riverfront
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Work continues on a final portion of the Everett riverfront development east of Interstate 5 along the Snohomish River Monday afternoon.
Looking southeast from 41st Street east of I-5, a swath of empty land along the Snohomish River sits waiting for development.
Looking southeast from I-5 in early November, a swath of empty land along the Snohomish River sits waiting for development.
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Looking northeast from 41st Street east of Interstate 5, a swath of green along the Snohomish River sits waiting for development. Photo taken 110510
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Looking east down 41st Street in Everett, the road lead to a swath of green along the Snohomish River waiting for development. Photo taken 110510
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
A bulldozer works on a portion of land for the Everett riverfront project east of I-5 along the Snohomish River last week.
That probably won't change for months. Maybe longer.
When the Riverfront development is complete, it will change the face of Everett.
The multimillion-dollar project would include upscale shops, restaurants, condos, parks and lots of green space on a two-mile strip of land between I-5 and the Snohomish River.
It's expected to pump big dollars into city coffers, help draw other companies to the area and even change Everett's gritty mill town image. Plus, people in Everett should be able to stroll trails, launch a kayak or enjoy a picnic in a new park.
The city is almost done moving dirt around at the site. Everett's private partner, San Diego developer OliverMcMillan, says it's holding off building until the economy turns around.
So now it's time to wait.
While we're waiting, here's a review.
Q: Remind me again ... What is the Riverfront project?
A: The city struck a deal with private developer OliverMcMillan in 2007 to turn industrial land on the Snohomish River into an upscale development. The city sold 119 acres to the developer. Another 100 or so acres will remain public and include trails, parks and open space.
Q: Isn't that where Mount Firestone used to be?
A: That land used to be the site of two mills and the city landfill. In the 1980s, a mountain of tires dumped at the landfill caught fire and burned for months, creating a stinky, fire-belching tire volcano. Locals dubbed it “Mount Firestone.” Eventually, the mess got cleared away and the city capped the landfill. Rather than just let the land sit, city leaders, including former Mayor Ed Hansen, started talking about the Riverfront project.
Q: It seems like the city has been working on this project forever. What's the deal?
A: City leaders have been working on this project for nearly two decades. Before the economy tanked, the developer and the city thought the project would be finished by 2011. The recession slowed things down but the city and the developer insist things are still moving along. That slow pace actually kept the project viable, said Paul Buss, president of OliverMcMillan. If the project had been further along when the economy faltered, the developer would have been stuck with a lot of empty storefronts and no tenants to generate revenue, he said. Now, the city and the developer hope to see buildings up by 2013.
Q: All I can see at the site are big piles of dirt and machines moving it around. What's going on down there?
A: The city spent years working with Burlington Northern Santa Fe to move a major railroad line that bisected the property, said Dave Davis, Everett's public works director. The city cleaned up industrial pollutants. It also started preparing the landfill for commercial development, which required installing underground collection systems for groundwater and methane gas. Workers also had to place gigantic mounds of dirt on top of the landfill site to compress the trash underneath. Davis said the developer will still have plenty to do to get the site ready for construction.
Now, OliverMcMillan is working on finding financing and laying out the residential part of the project, Buss said. Both the city and the developer say they are talking with retailers, trying to secure tenants for the planned storefronts.
Q: This sounds pricey. What's this costing us?
A: So far the city has spent $54 million on buying land, moving railroad tracks, extending 41st Street, cleaning up pollutants and preparing the site. The city saved at least $3 million on that last item, Davis said. One silver lining of the recession is contractors are hungry for work and that's meant savings for taxpayers. That figure above includes money the city would have had to spend to clean up the landfill site whether a development happened or not.
The city still plans to spend at least $30 million to complete a roundabout that will connect 41st Street with the project; design and build the public amenities that go along with the project; and build sewer and storm water systems, a section of road and a signal near a railroad crossing. By the city's own estimates, the total price tag could top $80 million. That's right on track with what the city intended to spend, Davis said.
The city's chief financial officer, Debra Bryant, said the city won't start on the remaining work until the developer starts construction. OliverMcMillan has spent another $20 million so far, Buss said. The developer is expected to spend at least $400 million by the project's completion.
Q: We're in the middle of a recession. How can we afford this right now?
A: The city is paying for this project with a combination of funding. A $2.50 solid waste tax charged to Everett households monthly pays for work to clean up the former landfill. Taxpayer money set aside for street work is paying for a planned roundabout. The land sold to the developer also brought in an additional $8 million. The developer is required to pay traffic fees in the $1.5 million range. The city hasn't yet issued any bonds, but likely will in the future. Everett and the developer applied for millions of dollars in low-cost federal bonds but turned them down a few weeks ago because OliverMcMillan would have had to start building sooner than it was ready.
Q: Is the developer going to survive the recession?
A: That's a question the city says it asks OliverMcMillan frequently, said Lanie McMullin, Everett's economic development director. The company is privately held. It's been in business since 1978 and it specializes in projects like this one. The company lists at least six other projects across the country on its website. Since the developer is a private company, there is no way for the city or the public to get a look at its books. Buss said his company is one of the few that's weathering the recession well, because of conservative choices and from sheer luck. His company had no major projects under construction when the economy collapsed.
Q: What kinds of shops are going down there?
A: So far Cinetopia, a luxury movie theater with a complex in Vancouver, Wash., is the only company to commit publicly to the project. The city wants unique, regional companies in those spaces. The city's economic development director listed hotels, sporting goods, restaurants, entertainment complexes and “soft-goods” stores such as high-end women's clothing boutiques. The original concept called for a hotel. The developer said that's still possible but it's looking less likely — at least right away. Hotels are suffering in the recession.
Q: Didn't I hear something about a farmers market?
A: The city wants one badly somewhere in Everett. Originally, city leaders thought it would be a perfect anchor for the Riverfront project. Now, they say they're talking with other developers who could get it built faster in downtown Everett.
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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