EVERETT — A tentative compromise on parking spots emerged Friday for building a new Snohomish County courthouse in downtown Everett, after time-consuming and expensive delays.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and County Executive John Lovick said they had reached an agreement to supply more than 300 parking spaces not included in the county’s original building plans. The resolution should keep the courthouse within budget and satisfy the city’s needs, they said.
“We have to keep this building at $162 million and we believe this will do that,” Lovick said Friday.
Lovick was optimistic the agreement would succeed and credited staff members for working hard to make it happen.
It’s up to the County Council to approve any deal.
Stephanson wrote to Lovick on Thursday to say he was pleased: “I am confident that, working together, we have laid the groundwork for the county to build a new courthouse in Everett that will meet the needs of our community.”
Specifics of the agreement were not available Friday.
The new parking rules, which the city passed through emergency legislation Dec. 24, have threatened to capsize an already listing construction budget. Until the city adopted the new rules, regulations in the city’s downtown business district required no extra parking for the new building. Stephanson said in January that he thought he had an understanding with the county about parking but was surprised when it didn’t materialize.
As the sides tried and failed to reach a compromise this year, the ground-breaking date got pushed back indefinitely. Work had been scheduled to start this spring.
Everett floated a possible solution during discussions. It came in the form of a redevelopment project along Hewitt Avenue with parking and shops. Under the plans, the county would lease space in the future garage to comply with the city parking requirement.
During the past few weeks, that idea got snagged on two issues, according to a March 30 letter that Lovick sent Stephanson.
The biggest sticking point was how much the county would pay for the parking. The basic proposal involves a 20-year lease in the future city parking garage, with rent starting at $252,000 per year. The sides had been unable to agree on how much that amount would increase each year. Suggestions have ranged from zero percent to 2 percent.
Another source of friction was how far the parking structure could be located from the new courthouse. The numbers under discussion were a maximum of 250 feet or 500 feet*.
Everett has considered redeveloping the south side of Hewitt Avenue between Rockefeller and Oakes avenues. That’s on the same block as the proposed courthouse and next door to Xfinity Arena. Preservationists in Everett are worried about the loss of historic buildings there.
An increase in distance would expand potential locations for the parking garage.
The county designed the future eight-story courthouse with only 30 to 40 parking stalls reserved for judges and other staff. A stand-alone garage with enough spaces to satisfy Everett’s demands would cost up to $45 million, county staff have estimated.
Lovick’s administration contends that the new courthouse will create no additional demands for parking. The plan is to demolish the current 1967 building once staff moves to the new digs, across the street and a block east of where they are now.
The new building would occupy much of the block on the north side of Wall Street, between Rockefeller and Oakes avenues. It would take out a parking lot with more than 130 spaces that’s used for events at Xfinity Arena. The county also condemned six adjoining businesses for the building’s footprint.
City leaders also say the county has failed to meet obligations to supply downtown parking that it agreed to more than a decade ago, before building a new jail and administrative offices.
Every month of delay adds nearly $200,000 onto the cost of the project, staff have estimated.
Giving up on the new courthouse altogether would waste more than $26.4 million of taxpayer money, with nothing to show for it. That’s largely because the county is obligated to pay interest on construction bonds it took out for the courthouse. That estimate, from late February, was expected to grow.
County leaders even started to think about tearing up their architectural plans and building the courthouse somewhere else. The county issued a formal request March 30 for firms interested in studying potential courthouse sites outside the city of Everett, the county seat.
It’s unclear whether that option is politically realistic. Most County Council members are against moving the courthouse. That owes in large part to cost of transporting prisoners from the county jail downtown back and forth to hearings at a remote court facility.
The County Council also has asked the architect hired on the courthouse project to work up estimates for back-up plans, including remodeling the current courthouse and adding a new wing.