Destination spot

EVERETT – Tom Ohrbeck can tell you why people said the large swath of land extending north and east of the Boeing Co.’s plant would never become a thriving industrial area.

Until 10 years ago, the many acres along Merrill Creek Parkway known as Seaway Center sat mostly empty, waiting for companies to develop manufacturing centers, offices and distribution warehouses.

Today, thousands work in the buildings that have replaced the trees. Two weeks ago, StockPot Inc., a division of Campbell Soup Co., announced it will build an $80 million soup plant there. Fewer than 30 developable acres remain for sale in the business park.

All of which comes as no surprise to those who have believed in the 301-acre park’s potential all along.

“We’ve really created a destination with Seaway Center,” said Ohrbeck, president of Seaway Development Co.

Though commercial property brokers sometimes refer to all of the industrial area north of the Boeing Freeway as Seaway Center, the business park officially encompasses lots along Merrill Creek Parkway from Seaway Boulevard to a few blocks east of Hardeson Road.

Washington Federal Savings Bank once owned all the land, having bought it in an earlier default. With help from developer Harry Henke III, who was key in building Seattle’s Space Needle, the idea for Seaway Center got off the ground in the mid-1980s, Ohrbeck said.

As a first step, the city worked with the developers to rezone the whole area so it could host more than just heavy industry.

At the time, there was little out there, said Allan Giffen, Everett’s planning director.

“It was all pretty much forest land. Trees and not too much else out there. There was just Boeing, Fluke and Intermec (Technologies Corp.),” he said.

A master plan eventually was approved for Seaway Center, allowing light manufacturing and distribution-type businesses to locate there with a minimum of obstacles. Infrastructure, including high-speed digital network lines, was installed by the developers.

Offering cheaper land prices than comparable business parks in Bothell and King County, the park’s developers waited for businesses to start moving in.

And they waited.

“They created a very attractive tech park and nothing happened,” said Gary Bullington, a broker with Cushman &Wakefield who has helped to lease or sell space in Seaway Center since the 1990s.

Fifteen years ago, Everett seemed a lot farther from Seattle than it does today, he explained.

“Some folks just felt that it was too far north to be a center for business,” added Mike Deller, Snohomish County Economic Development Council board member and past president of the region’s Technology Corridor effort, which included Seaway Center.

Deller noted the same thing was being said at the time about Bothell’s Canyon Park, which is now a sprawling collection of mostly biotechnology and medical device companies.

Growth in King and Snohomish counties has changed all that, of course. Now, Seaway Center’s location is often cited as an advantage by companies moving there.

“Where the work force is living has changed a lot over the last 15 years,” Deller said.

Ohrbeck said the developers also were hurt at first by trying to attract national companies to the park. Instead, many of the companies that have moved in are either local or relocating facilities from other areas of Puget Sound.

“We had to adjust our thinking and go along with the rest of the market,” he said.

Also, about that time, the portions of Seaway Center that weren’t sold to tenant companies went through several ownership changes.

Then, in 1995 and 1996, companies began looking north, and Seaway Center’s time had come.

That’s about the time Intracorp bought up part of the park for development, said Darren Peugh, a project manager with the company. Intracorp recently finished a 60,000-square-foot building in Seaway Center and is planning two more buildings totaling 90,000 square feet in the near future.

“The attraction is it’s a master planned industrial area, so it has all the infrastructure already in there and it has good access to I-5,” Peugh said.

Three years ago, Panattoni Development Co. bought 37 acres in Seaway Center and already has built two large buildings that are nearly full. It is considering constructing two more buildings in the near future, said Bullington, who handles the company’s leasing at the site. Panattoni also sold the land that StockPot will build on beginning this month.

While the prospect of running out of space at Seaway Center may have seemed improbable at one point, others agree with Ohrbeck that the potential for its present success has ways been there.

“I’m not surprised at how it has developed, except that in the late ’80s, I think we thought it would develop a little faster,” Giffen said. “But it is filling up out there.”

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or

Jennifer Buchanan

/ The Herald

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