EVERETT — For Jim and Rosy Addington, owners of the north Everett apartments once known as Colby Square, a new name brings with it new beginnings.
Destroyed two years ago in a fatal blaze caused by arson, the apartments have been resurrected and, as of last weekend, are now taking tenants.
The complex is now called the High Ridge Apartments. The rooms are nicer, and a little pricier, but the ownership is the same.
Jim Addington likens the story of rebirth to a beast from ancient Greek mythology, the phoenix, rising from the ashes of its former self.
He admitted the cost to rebuild — $3.2 million — was more than he expected. Half was paid by insurance, and the rest was paid through a loan. At least $1 million of that went to code upgrades, including alarm and sprinkler systems and other fire prevention measures.
With the extra precautions, the likelihood of another catastrophic fire are minimal, Rosy Addington said.
Despite the cost, the owners said they have been committed to bringing back the apartments at 2229 Colby Ave. They bought the property in 1999, and hope to keep it in the family for as long as possible.
“This is important to us,” Jim Addington said.
A defense attorney said at a sentencing hearing that William Matthews was in the “throes of mental illness” the evening of Dec. 21, 2017, when he used a lighter to ignite an artificial Christmas tree in the building’s stairwell.
The flames spread quickly. The apartment’s manager, Janis Robinson, said she warned tenants as fast as she could. But the stairwell, the only escape route, had gone up in flames. She and others who lived on the second floor had no choice but to jump.
That wasn’t an option for Elsie Flynn, 76, who was in fragile health. She suffered from emphysema and needed 2 liters of oxygen per day. A neighbor set up a ladder against the balcony for her and her daughter to climb down. By the time Flynn got to the ground, she had passed out.
She died at the hospital four days later, on Christmas Day, from respiratory failure, possibly triggered by lack of supplemental oxygen, smoke and the stress the escape had on her body. Her death was classified as a homicide.
Twenty people lost their homes that night.
The owners lost the building they had poured so much sweat into for nearly two decades.
Matthews was sentenced in June to 10 years in prison and later was ordered to pay $1.3 million in restitution. He had pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and arson.
Rebuilding was its own journey. The Addingtons had never constructed an apartment complex from scratch. Hiring an architect and designing floor plans was new to them.
Amenities include state-of-the art appliances, vinyl wood flooring and soundproofed walls, as well as ceiling fans and vaulted ceilings in the second-floor units. In the parking lot are electric vehicle charging stations.
The one-bedroom units are priced between $1,400 and $1,600 a month.
The owners said they designed the place as if they were going to live in one of the apartments,
“Hopefully that’s respected and appreciated and it pays off in the long run,” Jim Addington said.
As for the name, Jim Addington said initially he thought the new apartments also would be branded Colby Square. Then he realized an internet search would return images of the December 2017 blaze.
That’s not a reminder they wanted.
“We’re beyond that,” Jim Addington said.
The new name was born from geography: The complex sits atop the crest of a ridge stretching along Colby.
Plus, the name High Ridge wasn’t taken, Jim Addington said.
With the apartments up and running, the Addingtons hope they can return to the plans they had before the fire, which included taking their boat to Mexico.
They hope to finally take that trip next year. When they do, they plan to hand off management, and eventually ownership, to their children.
For now, “we’re just glad to be back,” Rosy Addington said.