A sign in front of the AquaSox front office references the upcoming Everett City Council vote on a sum of $1.1 million to give to outside contractors to help upgrade a new stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A sign in front of the AquaSox front office references the upcoming Everett City Council vote on a sum of $1.1 million to give to outside contractors to help upgrade a new stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett AquaSox stadium upgrade gets $1.1M green light from city

City officials want to keep the team in Everett. But will they play in a new stadium downtown in 2027? Or an updated Funko Field?

EVERETT — Everett is one step closer to keeping the AquaSox.

On Wednesday, the City Council voted 6-0 to authorize Mayor Cassie Franklin to sign two contracts worth $1.1 million. One contract would allow consultants to begin initial work on a new or updated baseball stadium for the AquaSox, and the second to complete environmental impact evaluations on all site alternatives.

Council member Judy Tuohy was not present for the vote.

In 2020, Major League Baseball imposed a long list of minimum stadium standards when it took over minor league baseball. Everett’s stadium, Funko Field, required massive updates to meet those standards.

That left Everett with the choice of either losing the AquaSox or spending millions to meet the MLB requirements. The league is already fining the AquaSox a “six-figure fee” each season, until the project is well underway, said Chad Volpe, co-owner of the AquaSox.

In light of the new requirements, the city is now weighing three options:

• Update the current stadium;

• Demolish and rebuild Funko Field;

• Or move to a new site downtown near Angel of the Winds Arena — signaling the city has moved on from other alternative options at Kasch Park, near the Everett Mall and elsewhere.

The new or updated stadium was pitched as a 3,500-seat outdoor, multi-use stadium that could double as a baseball stadium and outdoor venue, according to a study the city paid for in 2022. The city also must consider the needs of Everett Public Schools, the owner of Funko Field, as it currently doubles as a venue for high school sports.

The mayor expressed her support for the council’s move in a statement Wednesday:

“I’m proud that our city’s elected leadership is committed to doing everything we can to maintain this vital economic development and recreation asset and ensure the AquaSox remain our home team for generations to come.”

Council President Brenda Stonecipher said the council is on board with keeping the AquaSox in Everett.

“There is not one person who is saying, ‘Do we really want this team here?’ That’s not where we’re at, at all,” Stonecipher said during the meeting. “We’re just trying to struggle to understand the process, the timeline, the costs.”

Council member Paula Rhyne said the community is “hungry” for more events in Everett.

“I’m glad to support an Everett institution and I’m willing to take a minor step to support our minor league team to see that they stay the Everett AquaSox,” Rhyne said.

What’s new?

The council’s vote Wednesday approved the following:

• A $344,400 agreement with Shiels Obletz Johnsen Inc., a Seattle-based management firm, to get the ball rolling on an updated stadium.

• An $807,421 agreement with Environmental Sciences Associates to perform an environmental impact evaluation of each site option.

Both contracts can be terminated at any time, said Scott Pattison, a city project manager.

The current site options aren’t concrete, Pattison said. Locations can be added, changed or taken away at any time.

Stonecipher wants to create a fiscal advisory committee for the stadium project. The proposed committee could include representatives from the city, county, the AquaSox, Everett Public Schools and taxpayers.

This could help taxpayers stay informed on the project, she said.

Volpe said the team paid for its own study to look at previous site selections. The study examined infrastructure, sewage, parking and other elements.

The findings pointed to Funko Field and a downtown location being the two best places for an updated stadium, Volpe said.

He said the AquaSox will next pay for a feasibility study to see what it would cost to build a new stadium on the current property or update Funko Field.

Council member Ben Zarlingo said there are benefits and drawbacks of each location. Staying at Funko Field would be cheaper, and have the “lowest risk,” he said. However, this wouldn’t fix an ongoing conflict with school athletics.

In 2021, the AquaSox were elevated from a short season Single-A to a High-A team, lengthening their season by months, as well as bringing more developed players to the team. The extended season overlapped with high school games usually scheduled at Funko Field.

Building a new stadium downtown would bring the option of creating a larger, multi-use stadium, but would be more “risky” and expensive, Zarlingo said.

Funding

Ben Franz-Knight, project manager with Shiels Obletz Johnsen, said the project could cost between $40 million and $80 million, regardless of whether it’s a new stadium or an upgrade. The cost will largely depend on whether the team stays at Funko Field, or whether the city acquires new land.

Franz-Knight provided a chart of potential funding sources:

• $5 million to $10 million from the AquaSox, either direct capital or related revenue over the term of the lease;

• $7.4 million from the state;

• $20 million to $45 million in grants and other public funding;

• $5 million to $10 million labeled as “other” funding.

Scott Pattison, the city project manager, said the city will commit $1.5 million from Fund 145, the city’s property acquisition fund, to pay for the approved contracts.

Pattison said the county is willing to chip in on the project, though an exact figure hasn’t been determined.

The future of baseball in Everett

Franz-Knight also provided the firm’s next steps Wednesday.

First, it will begin the state environmental impact study of all site alternatives. Franz-Knight said the firm will update the city council on the status of the project at least once a month.

The stadium project has been divided into three phases. The target is to open a new stadium for the 2027 AquaSox season.

Phase One (2023 to 2024)

• Evaluate sites and conduct state Environmental Policy Act review.

• Conduct economic impact and market feasibility studies.

• Select a site.

• Confirm funding for construction and identify funding for operation and maintenance.

Phase Two (2024 to 2025)

• Acquire property.

• Negotiate contracts with designers, developers and contractors.

• Negotiate the AquaSox lease.

• Negotiate with private and public parties to ensure funding (sponsors, naming rights, etc.)

• Design stadium.

Phase Three (2025 to early 2027)

• Construction.

• Prepare stadium for 2027 AquaSox season.

Ashley Nash: 425-339-3037; ashley.nash@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @ash_nash00.

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