By Kurt Batdorf For The Herald
EVERETT — In his 10th State of the City address, Mayor Ray Stephanson was glad to report that the city’s finances are in “remarkable shape” despite the recession that began in 2008.
Speaking to members of Economic Alliance Snohomish County on Thursday morning at the Everett Golf and Country Club, Stephanson credited the city’s finance staff and the cooperation of the city’s labor unions for keeping Everett’s expenses in check while avoiding layoffs and involuntary furloughs.
That cooperation helped the city improve its bond rating three times to AA+, which he said is “almost unprecedented” among municipalities nationwide since the recession began. The improved rating helped the city save $10 million on a recent refinance of $72 million in municipal bonds, he said.
“The city lives under a new economic norm now,” Stephanson said.
The new normal might not be so bad, though. “I do see an improving economy,” the mayor said.
The community banks that survived the recession are starting to make more loans to small businesses that are starting to hire more workers.
Stephanson expects to see some industrial jobs return to the site of the former Kimberly-Clark paper mill on Everett’s waterfront. The company’s closure of the mill in April cost 700 jobs. Kimberly-Clark for months has been demolishing buildings on the site to clear it for redevelopment.
The mayor believes the site has a bright future since it’s one of only three deep-water ports on the West Coast with development potential. He wants to see an operation that supports the aerospace sector and could improve the neighboring Port of Everett’s capacity without encroaching on ship movements at Naval Station Everett.
Stephanson said he spoke with Bellingham’s mayor about what that city learned in the years after the closure of the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill on its waterfront while the city weighed zoning and redevelopment options. The City Council this month retained the former mill site’s industrial zoning, requiring water-dependent uses along the immediate shoreline. The mayor lauded that decision.
“I think we came to the best possible decision on this issue,” Stephanson said. “We’re in a positive place on the waterfront plan.”
On the other side of the city, the mayor said, Everett’s riverfront project development partner, OliverMcMillan of San Diego, received a letter of intent from Polygon Homes to take over all development of the mixed-use residential and retail property along the Snohomish River. He said he expects to see construction activity begin there in the next 12 to 18 months; the recession had kept the project on hold.
Regarding the downtown core, Stephanson said he signed paperwork obligating Marriott hotel developer Touchstone to complete its financing by June and begin construction of a hotel at Colby Avenue and Wall Street by October or Touchstone forfeits $500,000.
Lobsang Dargey, developer of Potala Village at the corner of Pacific and Rucker avenues, has started site preparation for the new Everett Farmers Market, hotel and apartment complex at Grand Avenue and Wall Street.
Stephanson acknowledged two of Everett’s shortcomings: median family income that’s $10,000 less than the state average and a shortage of residents with college degrees.
“We can’t wish that away,” he said, but education is the answer.
The mayor noted how well Everett Community College and Washington State University are integrating their engineering programs to feed more graduates into the local work force. The Boeing Co. is clamoring for engineers to replace those approaching retirement.
“I fully expect to see a WSU campus in Everett in our lifetimes that will rival the Pullman campus,” Stephanson said.
Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; firstname.lastname@example.org.