Deadline could make or break Everett’s waterfront project

By Mike Benbow Herald Columnist

It’s getting close to crunch time for one plan to develop the Everett waterfront.

The proposal for an estimated $400 million development that would eventually include some 660 condominiums as well as commercial space, offices and restaurants has been on hold as the Chicago developer has tried to emerge from bankruptcy.

Maritime Trust Co. and the Port of Everett are partners on the proposed Port Gardner Wharf development. And the bankruptcy proceeding has essentially put things at a standstill.

Maritime president Bert Meers has said the company would very much like to continue with its plans for the Everett development and is working its way through bankruptcy court.

He’ll soon get a chance to literally put his money where his mouth is with a key deadline coming up.

Lawyers for Maritime and the port have been negotiating a payment due in late May to compensate the port for money it has lost in leases from potential users as the property has sat idle.

The port says that figure is about $1.1 million. Maritime Trust believes it should be closer to $750,000. Ultimately, a Chicago bankruptcy court judge will decide a precise amount.

If Maritime cuts the check, its contract with the port and its ability to continue to tie up the land continues. “I assume they’re expecting to make it or we wouldn’t be going through this exercise,” the port’s Jerry Heller said. “We’ve had a lot of discussions on the amount.”

Brad Cattle, the port’s attorney, said if Maritime doesn’t pay, its contract with the port is dead. “The port will be able to cancel the agreement and they will have no claim to the property,” he said of Maritime.

Port director John Mohr said he expects to be heading to Chicago in a couple of weeks for legal proceedings to determine the amount owed. He said once there’s a number, Maritime will be expected to pay within three days.

“My feeling is that if they pay it, they’re serious about going forward,” Mohr said.

Mohr noted that Maritime’s decision is crucial to other issues now facing the port, such as the fate of the Collins Building, which once housed a casket factory.

The port commission is still trying to determine what to do with the building, which is on the National Historic Register because it marks the last remnant of the industrial buildings that once lined the city’s waterfront. The commission will hold an all-day meeting June 5 in the Weyerhaeuser Room of the Everett Station to help make its decision.

Mohr noted that the port’s contract with Maritime affects a lot of the waterfront land, including where to put an area called the Craftsman District that has been set aside for boat-related businesses. The district was to have included the area where the Collins Building now sits.

Mohr said the district is “a key piece for the port and a key piece for any boatyards that operate down there.”

“It has an impact on the continued success of the marina,” he added.

If the Maritime contract continues, the question becomes “does the Collins Building go or does the boatyard go?” Mohr said.

If the Maritime contract is voided “nearly the entire site is available and there are more alternatives” for locating the boatyard, he added.

Of course the big payment coming due is just one step for Maritime to continue with its plans. It would still have to emerge from bankruptcy and then convince a bank or several banks to loan it the money for the project, which I’m guessing would no longer cost $400 million.

But even if that number is now $300 million, it will be a tough task to get money from a any bank at a time when few developers are building expensive condos because few people are buying them.

Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459; benbow@heraldnet.com.