By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
EVERETT — The slow progress of plans to build retail businesses, homes and parks on an expanse of prime real estate between the Snohomish River and I-5 has caused much hand-wringing in the city.
The Riverfront project, after all, has been evolving for more than two decades. Everett first started serious discussions with San Diego-based real estate developer OliverMcMillan in 2005, and three years later sold the company more than 100 acres of buildable land. The overall property is twice that size, but includes wetlands and natural areas that are off-limits to development.
From the perspective of city administrators, the project remains on track, albeit hampered by the sluggish post-2008 real estate market.
“We definitely still see it as a jewel along the I-5 corridor that could be something great,” city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.
To date, both the developer and the city have fulfilled all contractual obligations, including obtaining permits and installing utilities, Reardon added.
The Riverfront project has received renewed public attention of late, with word that Bellevue-based homebuilder Polygon Northwest has signaled interest in buying the property.
A briefing about the potential change, and a recap of the project’s history, is planned at Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. City Council meeting. The council, at the same meeting, is scheduled to vote on zoning on the opposite side of town that will determine the future uses of the former Kimberly-Clark mill site and surrounding waterfront properties.
Council members learned of Polygon’s potential role in the Riverfront project in a Dec. 12 email from the city’s chief financial officer, Debra Bryant.
The idea, all along, has been that OliverMcMillan would work with several development partners. News that the company is looking to sell the whole property surprised some on the City Council.
“OliverMcMillan and their financier, Principal, have received a Letter of Intent from Polygon Homes to purchase the entire Riverfront site, 110 acres,” the email from Bryant says. “This would mean that Polygon would take the place of Oliver McMillan.”
If successful, a land deal could close in late spring or early summer, the email adds.
The city would have to approve any sale.
Representatives from Polygon declined to speak to a reporter. An OliverMcMillan spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
OliverMcMillan paid Everett $8 million for the property in 2008.
Agreements already in place between the city and the developer would transfer over with any sale. That includes a mid-2017 deadline to build 400,000 square feet of retail space. Other deadlines follow, with penalties for non-compliance.
The Riverfront property stretches 1.7 miles, from Pacific Avenue in the north to the Lowell neighborhood in the south. It encompasses the former Everett landfill and two former mill sites. The landfill, which the city started using in 1917, was the site of the 1984 tire fire.
Preparations over the years have involved massive environmental cleanup. The city has reached agreements with BNSF Railway to reconfigure railroad tracks. The city also moved its old animal shelter off 36th Street to its current site on Smith Island Road.
Other near-term improvements due to go before the City Council for approval include building more riverfront trailway, drainage improvements and sewer upgrades.
The total public price tag for the Riverfront project, from the earliest cleanup stages to the work yet to come, could top $80 million.
Public work completed so far included the 41st Street overpass and a roundabout. The property agreement calls for the developer to improve 36th Street.
The proposed master plan outlines a total of 900,000 square feet of commercial space, a 250-room hotel as well as up to 1,400 houses and condos.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.