Everett to re-examine plan to build a new events center

By Theresa Goffredo

Herald Writer

EVERETT — Boeing’s announcement that it would lay off thousands of Everett workers has sent city council members back to the financial drawing board to make sure building a new arena for hockey and entertainment events is the right thing to do.

"We’re having all of our early financial projections revised before we go ahead with the project," Mayor Ed Hansen said Thursday.

The council will ask the consultants who did the proposed events center’s initial probability study to take a fresh look by plugging in a revised financial projection based on the latest information on sales tax forecasts, Hansen said.

"We’ll be taking a substantial review of all the assumptions, and if it turns out the economic signals suggest we rethink or delay, then we will do that," the mayor said. The new figures will be ready within the next few weeks, he said.

Councilman Dan Warnock said the city needs to do more homework in light of the pending Boeing layoffs. Warnock said he and other members of the city’s Budget Committee need to sit down with the mayor and discuss the details of the Boeing layoffs in a "clear and concise manner."

"And then we need to bring this information to the council so they can be fully briefed on the financial outlook of the city, and so we can react in a fair and prudent manner. That’s why we’ve been given the stewardship to do this," Warnock said.

Boeing doesn’t yet have a layoff plan but has implied that between 5,000 and 7,500 Everett jobs will go by the end of 2002.

Saying there are no guarantees in life, councilman Ron Gipson believes the Boeing layoffs will have a trickle-down effect on Everett, but he still wants to believe in the events center.

"It’s a roll of the dice, but hopefully all the planning we have put into it and the potential (hockey) team that comes into the arena will have some staying power," Gipson said.

The city can also market itself better by going after more trade shows and conventions for the proposed center, Gipson said.

The $50 million project would have a Western Hockey League franchise on the ice rink, which would also be open for family skating, and space for concerts and other entertainment events. Early projections had an average of 6,000 to 7,000 fans a night attending hockey games.

But even if the arena doesn’t always pack a full house, Gipson said the construction would put people to work and, when completed, create entertainment for locals who don’t want to face Seattle’s traffic.

Councilman Frank Anderson said: "if we all shut down, the economy is sure going to suffer. Construction workers and plumbers and concrete workers are hungry and looking for work. So we may not be really smart to back off. We certainly will have a downturn in the economy, but we need to make sure we don’t miss a real opportunity."

The city of Everett has a good bond rating — an important advantage and not something to ignore, said councilman David Simpson. "We should not stop the projects, but look at how we can carry these projects on."

The events center would largely be funded by $25 million in sales tax rebates over 25 years. But the center must be funded with cash up front to pay for construction, and that would be raised through the sale of bonds sold to investors who collect interest until the bonds are paid off.

If the project isn’t a sound investment, it won’t be able to secure bonds, said state Rep. Aaron Reardon, D-Everett.

"The bond council is very, very picky," said Reardon, who also works for the city. "If they don’t think it will be successful, they won’t get the money, that’s why bond rating is so important."

He said he thought it unlikely that state legislators would extend the deadline for construction to begin on the center, or on any other rebate-funded project. To receive the tax rebate, communities must turn dirt on their projects by January 2003.

"We set the deadline for checks and balances," Reardon said. "Those projects that can’t meet the deadline maybe are not as thoughtful as people first believed."

Reardon said the whole point of state legislators making sales tax rebates available was to stimulate local economies and enhance the quality of life in communities. He agreed with other city leaders who believe the center will create union-wage jobs at a time when they are most needed.

"We don’t know how many construction jobs will be created, but it will be significant," Reardon said. "There’s no better way to jump start the economy."

Reardon said Everett was on the right track with the project, saying it "should be continued with vigor."

Joel Starr, owner of the Flying Pig restaurant in downtown Everett, agreed with Reardon, although he doesn’t think the games will draw 7,000 fans a night.

"The arena is a very good project," Starr said. "It’s necessary. It’s viable. It’s appropriate for this area."

You can call Herald Writer Theresa Goffredo at 425-339-3097

or send e-mail to goffredo@heraldnet.com.

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