EVERETT — Thousands of commuters drive through Everett on I-5 every day, but relatively few take an exit and venture into the city.
They don’t know what the city has to offer, Everett City Councilman Jeff Moore lamented.
Moore and others hope a revised plan for the Riverfront commercial district will not only lure locals but also tempt travelers to stop and grab a bite to eat or catch a movie.
The property owner, Shelter Holdings, submitted an application to the city’s planning department this week, then gave the City Council an overview on Wednesday of what the development could look like when complete.
The commercial district there would be spread across a 70-acre parcel, the site of a former landfill.
At its heart, a movie theater and specialty grocery store would anchor a pedestrian-friendly plaza with brick walkways and room for street fairs and farmers markets.
The area would also include 230,000 square feet of retail space and 120,000 square feet of office space.
“We hope to start construction in August,” said Eric Evans, Shelter’s director of development. “We have to sink 85-foot piles to secure the buildings — this has to be done in the summer.”
Under the firm’s “aggressive timeline,” movie-goers could be watching their favorite flick at the Riverfront Cinema in 24 to 26 months, Evans said.
“We’d like to have the theater and grocery store built by then,” he said.
The commercial area would sprout in six phases, with each phase taking about two years to complete, he said.
It would include a three-acre park, a 250-room hotel, 120,000 square-feet of office space and 2,700 parking spaces.
In response to discussion of ongoing changes in the retail industry, Evans said: “We don’t have all the answers. Some of the planning will evolve.”
To meet the density requirements of some retailers, Shelter plans to build an additional 1,250 residences.
The Riverfront development has two sections. The area with the houses, called the Overlook at Riverfront, can be reached via 41st Street. The area with townhomes is off Pacific Avenue. Both are freeway exits.
Plans call for the two sections to eventually meet in the middle and share a road, the park and the commercial area. The commercial portion would occupy the former landfill site of Everett’s infamous tire fires of the 1980s.
Shelter had to reboot plans for the commercial district in late 2017 when Ikea shelved plans to build a new store on the Riverfront property.
The furniture retailer, which had been in talks with the city, gave no reason for its decision.
The move forced Shelter back to the drawing board to create a plan that didn’t involve a big-box retailer.
Shelter’s new concept features smaller stores and businesses.
Last summer, Shelter invited city residents, including the Riverside and Lowell neighborhoods, to scrutinize the revamped design at an open house and name the types of businesses and services they would support.
High on the list were requests for a movie theater and a specialty grocery store, Evans said.
“We heard from quite a few residents that said they could see themselves stopping in to catch a movie, doing a bit of shopping and grabbing a meal either before or after a show,” Evans said. “This is one of the reasons the cinema is a strong foundation for a vibrant entertainment district at the Riverfront.”
(Despite the competition from online video, internet-enabled TV and other film formats, the movie theater industry has grown an annualized 3 percent over the past five years, according to an IBISWorld, a global research firm.)
Shelter hasn’t revealed any brand names at this point but said it is in talks with three grocery retailers, several hotel operators and a movie theater operator.
“We’re more than halfway there with a movie theater,” Evans said. “They want to know we’re going ahead.”
The City Council asked for updated revenue projections for the commercial district and information about tax-incentive options.
The process ahead will include meetings with the city’s Planning Commission, the City Council and a public comment period.
The district’s architecture is intended to give the area “a historical flavor,” drawing inspiration and colors — blue, gray and rust — from industrial scapes, Evans said.
Councilman Moore, who has a background in architecture, asked that Shelter would add a bit more flourish, such as balconies and roof gardens.
The development should look enticing from the freeway, Moore said.
“Make it an architectural delight,” he said “This is going to be the welcome mat for Everett.”
Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods