Everett mayor sees rosy future

EVERETT – In his first State of the City address, Mayor Ray Stephanson on Tuesday painted a bullish vision for Everett, with a four-year university, a vibrant riverfront and further revitalization of downtown.

Speaking at an Everett Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast, he also announced that city officials are putting together a plan to buy several downtown buildings and sell them to developers.

Mayor Ray Stephanson on Tuesday laid out his long-term vision for Everett. Among his top priorities:

* High-quality development along 100 acres of the Snohomish River, along with parks and trails, and possibly a branch of Bastyr University.

* Continued revitalization of downtown. The city may buy some buildings and then sell them to developers.

* A four-year university with technical degrees.

* More cultural activities. This would help attract new businesses and residents.

Stephanson unveiled no other major proposals. He presented Everett as a city that is financially sound after his 13 months as mayor. And he touted how well he now works with a City Council that initially was cool to him.

Stephanson was elected in November 2003 and is running for re-election this year against Councilman Ron Gipson.

Stephanson said a key to downtown’s continued revitalization is putting restaurants, stores, offices, apartments and condominiums in buildings that are now vacant or underused.

Owners of half a dozen properties on Hewitt Avenue have been unwilling to sell, he said. The owners appear to be waiting for other development to occur so property values will rise, he said. That’s why the city may try to buy the buildings, the mayor said.

“We want to be a catalyst to kick-start development,” Stephanson said.

The city will negotiate with building owners but could use eminent domain as a last resort, Stephanson said.

Many other cities across the country have used eminent domain as part of their revitalization plans. The Connecticut Supreme Court in 2004 upheld a land seizure in that state. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing that decision.

In his speech, Stephanson said the city hopes by April to select a developer for 100 acres along the Snohomish River.

The city wants a mix of residential, retail and entertainment-oriented development, along with parks and trails. Bastyr University, a Kenmore-based college that teaches natural healing and health, is considering a branch campus on the site. The land used to house a landfill and pulp and paper mill.

The mayor said he would continue to promote the idea of a four-year university in Everett.

“We really believe a four-year university that brings advanced technical degrees will be key to attracting business to this community,” he said.

Naval Station Everett has been a huge economic engine for the city since it opened a decade ago, Stephanson said. The mayor said he would fly to Washington, D.C., early in February to lobby the Pentagon not to include the station in its next round of base closures, which are scheduled to be announced in the fall.

Reporter David Olson: 425-339-3452 or dolson@heraldnet.com.

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