Everett calls for a plan for plaza

EVERETT – There are plenty of places to pick up a cup of coffee in downtown Everett, but few public spaces to sit and enjoy one outside.

For years, community activists have bemoaned the lack of downtown open space. They say more places to gather would provide oases where people could linger while shopping and eating downtown.

With hundreds of new residents expected to flock to condos being planned for Everett’s rapidly redeveloping downtown, that call has grown more urgent.

“We need to give people a place where they can gather and enjoy lunch and music and draw together on a nice spring day,” said Desmond Skubi, a former downtown worker who led a crusade to carve out more open public space downtown.

He could soon get his wish.

A city parking lot and a few vacant office buildings in downtown Everett could be transformed into an inviting urban plaza with benches and fountains in the next few years.

The city recently hired Nakano Associates of Seattle for $35,000 to come up with conceptual drawings and cost estimates for a plaza on California Street and Wetmore Avenue.

By late summer, the landscape design firm, which drew plans for the renovation of the popular International Fountain at Seattle Center, is expected to go public with urban plaza concepts for the property.

“At this point it is really developing a vision,” said Hal Gausman, Everett parks department’s special projects manager.

The city still hasn’t determined how it would pay for the plaza, but is considering a site on a quarter block of city-owned land.Some cities develop downtown open space through public-private partnerships, while others fund the projects on their own.

The Snohomish County Campus Plaza at 3000 Rockefeller Ave. is a good example of a publicly funded urban gathering place for concerts and community events.

With a full-service cafe, the plaza, which opened in 2005, has ample space with a grassy slope and benches, looking east toward the Cascades.Designs for a second downtown plaza will probably include a fountain, a shelter from the rain and a coffee stand or cafe, Gausman said.

The key is making sure it is developed to accommodate as many uses as possible, he said.

It would face the Everett Performing Arts Center, which was originally designed with an attached outdoor area in mind.

One design challenge is a driveway to Everett Mutual Tower’s garage, which cuts through the property.

Another will be drawing enough pedestrians to the plaza, which is not immediately visible from Colby or Hewitt avenues, the most frequently walked downtown streets.

“You want to draw enough people to energize it,” Gausman said.

Popularity, and frequent patrols by Everett Police Department’s bicycle patrol unit, can keep it from being a hangout for drug dealers and street alcoholics, Gausman said.

The city purchased the former Key Bank Building at 1621 California St. and Red Men’s Lodge at 1615 California St. for about $1.3 million in 2005.

The action came a year after Skubi and the Committee to Establish Downtown Open Spaces identified the properties as a good location for a fountain.

The committee told City Council members that plazas and public art and streetscape investments would attract more businesses and residents to Everett.

John Hoffman, an urban designer with Everett’s Perteet Engineering, took features that people wanted in a plaza and included them in a conceptual drawing that was submitted to the city.

The drawing included U-shaped seating and a fountain, where the Everett Symphony Orchestra could hold concerts.

He also drafted concepts of another plaza with trees, craft stands and tables on the northeast corner of Colby and Wall Streets.

The city now hopes a private developer will transform the sunken, fenced-off parking lot into a mid-rise mixed-use building.

Hoffman’s concept called for the demolition of the two buildings. It is not yet clear whether that will happen.

While all agree Red Men’s Lodge will be razed, there is still a debate about the fate of the former Key Bank building.

“That’s the $2 million question,” said City Council President Brenda Stonecipher, who serves on the council’s budget committee.

That’s because the building, which is covered with small yellow tiles, will require about that much money in improvements before a tenant can move in.

City Councilman Mark Olson, who would like to see the building preserved, said either way, the plaza will be a catalyst for more positive downtown investment.

“We can’t wait for everything else to happen,” he said. “If we’re always waiting for the next big residential project, we’ll just be waiting.”

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@heraldnet.com.

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