Everett riverfront project developer may want out

EVERETT — The city’s private partner on the stalled Riverfront project might be looking to unload its property to another developer.

The news about San Diego-based OliverMcMillan caught council members off guard earlier this month. Council President Ron Gipson, already frustrated by lack of progress, vowed to hold up votes on any related projects until Mayor Ray Stephanson’s office provides an update. That included sidelining the approval of a $1 million recreational trail.

“It was a total surprise to us,” Gipson said last week. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to have an update.”

A briefing has been scheduled during the regular City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 9.

The Riverfront venture was supposed to remake a two-mile strip of former industrial land between I-5 and the Snohomish River.

City leaders have been working on it for about two decades.

The original vision was to channel more than $400 million in public and private money toward an upscale development with shops, homes and long stretches of open space.

The city learned recently that a separate developer, Polygon Northwest, has been performing due diligence for a potential purchase of the property from OliverMcMillan, Debra Bryant, the city’s chief financial officer, said last week.

It could be months before further details emerge, Bryant said, and any city agreements about the developer’s obligations would transfer over with the property.

“We don’t really know a lot more,” she said. “There was a sense from some council members that there was more of a story to tell, and I really don’t have one at this point.”

OliverMcMillan had no immediate comment. A representative for Bellevue-based Polygon did not return a call. The company is a major home builder in the region and is involved in Mill Creek’s urban village project along 132nd Street SE.

The public price tag to prepare the Riverfront project, so far, has exceeded $54 million. That includes buying land, moving railroad tracks, extending 41st Street, cleaning up pollution and preparing the site for construction. Taxpayers’ total bill could exceed $80 million after the city completes a 41st Street roundabout, sewer system and public amenities.

Two mills and the city landfill used to occupy the site. A mountain of tires at the dump caught fire in the 1980s, blanketing the region in stinky, toxic smoke.

The city struck a deal with private developer OliverMcMillan in 2007, selling the company 119 acres. Another 100 or so acres were earmarked for public use, including trails, parks and open space.

At the start, the city and the developer imagined the project would be complete in 2011.

By 2010, however, representatives from OliverMcMillan said they wanted to wait for an economic turnaround before pushing ahead.

The developer has until 2017 to break ground on the project.

“When they got the bid, they came in with visions of grandeur,” Gipson said. “All we’ve got out there is flat dirt.”

Councilman Arlan Hatloe, whose retirement from the council takes effect Monday, said he’s disappointed to see nothing built after investing so much time and public money. Hatloe and other officials have traveled to California for discussions with prospective big-box retail tenants.

“I drive by there and see nothing but dirt,” he said.

Hatloe said he asked for a detailed update months ago, “and was basically ignored.”

Plans outlined in an OliverMcMillan brochure called for approximately 600,000 square feet of retail space, a 200-room hotel, 1,000 condo units and approximately 100,000 square feet of office space.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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