BOTHELL — Early this year, a much-beloved former school in the heart of this historic city faced an uncertain future.
Would developers knock down the 79-year-old art deco-style Anderson School building to make way for new construction as the city forges ahead with an ambitious redevelopment plan?
“Almost everybody you talk to that grew up in this community either taught at or went to the W.A. Anderson School,” said Sue Kienast, president of the Bothell Historical Society.
For a while, it looked as if development would win out over preservation, Kienast said.
The agreement with McMenamins is the first project in a massive, 529-acre redevelopment plan for the heart of downtown known as “Bothell Landing.”
Over the next five years, 101-year-old Bothell’s downtown is expected to be transformed with expanded, tree-lined roads, a bigger, fancier riverside park, high-density housing and retail shops and a 50,000-square-foot City Hall.
In the midst of an economic downturn, the city is gearing up for the largest urban renewal project in its history. And it aims to accomplish the feat without raising taxes or taking on debt.
“One of the things we’ve done in Bothell that I think is different from other municipalities and the county is when times were good, we made a decision we would not treat that as revenue,” Mayor Mark Lamb said.
Bothell is filled with a mix of neighborhoods from Thrasher’s Corner to the high-tech and biotech corridors of Canyon Park and North Creek. The University of Washington’s Bothell campus, part of the city’s economic engine, lies at the easternmost edge of the project.
Bothell Landing, which will be divided into east and west portions, will add a neighborhood sense of place to the oldest part of the city, officials say.
“A lot of cities around the country have tried to artificially create Main Street,” said Maria Royer, managing broker for commercial real estate firm Real Retail and a city consultant. “Bothell has a great historical backdrop. The authenticity of that is very, very difficult to recreate.”
McMenamins agreed to buy several buildings, including the old school, for $2.3 million. As part of the agreement, McMen-amins will make $4.7 million worth of improvements to the property, including refurbishing the Northshore pool.
Kienast, who pushed the idea of bringing McMen-amins to Bothell, said she was “thrilled beyond words” by McMenamins’ announcement to buy the Anderson School, 18603 Bothell Way.
When the 5.4-acre site opens in 2013, it is expected to include a 70-room hotel, two restaurants, a community garden, movie theater, spa and revamped Northshore Pool, the use of which will be free to Bothell residents.
The McMenamins project is the linchpin in an ambitious plan city leaders hope will boost business, ease traffic congestion and connect the downtown to the 14.5-acre Park at Bothell Landing along the Sammamish River and popular Burke Gilman trail.
“I think McMenamins is going to be key to recruiting more small businesses to Main Street, which, in my estimation, will be a really good thing,” said Lynn Asmann, owner of Framewright Kaewyn Gallery, 10101 Main St., who’s active in city affairs.
Over the next five years, the city plans to invest $150 million in road, park and building redevelopment, city manager Bob Stowe said. It also wants to build a 50,000-square-foot City Hall on and around the site of its 72-year-old City Hall on 101st Avenue NE.
“Economists predict $150 million in investments will return $650 million in private sector investment downtown,” said Stowe, who was also instrumental in creation of the Mill Creek Town Center when he was city manager there.
Two-thirds of that investment is from one-time revenues; the rest from grants, Stowe said.
Traffic congestion has long been an issue in the city.
Officials say much of the impetus for the Bothell Landing redevelopment came from concerns about traffic backups and conflicts between cars and pedestrians.
Both the north-south Bothell Way and the east-west running Highway 522 intersect at Main Street in what has been a somewhat hazardous pedestrian no-man’s land, separating downtown from the park and river.
To clear the path for redevelopment, the city wanted to disconnect Highway 522 from Main Street.
It started that process in April by relocating 15 business from a strip mall just north of the park. Next, a quarter-mile long section of Highway 522 will be moved south.
That, along with a 2009 agreement with the Northshore School District for the city to buy 18 acres of land downtown for $20.6 million, will allow the city by 2013 to sell off 25 surplus acres of developable land, spokeswoman Joy Johnston said.
The city is well known for attracting high-tech and biotechnology firms to Canyon Park. Now it wants to focus more on bringing a mix of retail and residential development downtown.
“Largely, because of the business parks, we have a jobs-to-population ratio that most cities would be envious of,” said Dick Paylor, chairman of the Bothell Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee.
“We knew that in the business centers we have a great jobs center but we needed more retail. We saw a big void in the downtown area.”
The agreement with McMenamins was a coup for the city especially because the company had first considered a proposal to redevelop a former seminary building at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore, Kienast said. The project fell through.
“It just became clear that people were not interested in creating something that would have that much use in the park,” said Mike McMenamin, who owns McMenamins with his brother Brian. “We have just been looking for some sort of lodging and convention sort of facility up in that area for a long time.”
The Bothell site may be a better location than Saint Edward, he said.
“I think the site in Bothell is much more commercial and better from our standpoint,” he said.
Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429; email@example.com