MARYSVILLE — Slowly and methodically, the city has been buying up property — parcels big and small — to expand its waterfront park and public access along Ebey Slough.
When the Marysville City Council formally accepted the donation of a vacant boathouse last week, the last of the land and lease transactions was completed.
The vote was small potatoes, a housecleaning item on the council agenda. The city acquired what amounts to a floating shed that most likely will be demolished.
Yet with the final property acquisition, the city is able to take its next big step toward an ambitious goal.
“We have big plans to transform the waterfront,” city manager Gloria Hirashima said.
The council also agreed to seek bids to hire experts to help the city with planning to expand Ebey Waterfront Park and through the multi-agency permitting process. That next step could cost between $400,000 and $500,000 and likely take more than a year. No money has been committed for construction, but documents describe a $21 million project over two phases and several years.
It’s part of roughly $100 million, primarily in state and city money, that could be spent in the next few years in south Marysville. Other projects include a $50 million I-5 and Highway 529 interchange; a $10 million First Street bypass to alleviate congestion and work in and around the downtown to improve pedestrian and traffic safety and treatment of stormwater runoff.
Some of the work is under way; some on the horizon. The city, for instance, has bought 11 pieces of property east of State Avenue as it prepares to expand First Street from two to five lanes.
For now, the waterfront park offers well-used boat ramps, a playground, picnic tables and access to the newly opened two-mile Qwuloolt Estuary trail. Plans are in the works to expand the nature trail to more than five miles and into the interior of the estuary. Within the next two weeks, work on a tiny stretch beneath Highway 529 will be completed and Ebey Waterfront Park will connect directly to the trail.
The inter-tidal marine park and boat launch opened in 2005, capping a 10-year effort from drawing board to grand opening. Yet the $4 million park “had been in the imagination of city leaders since the 1940s,” according to a description on the city’s website. The park has its regulars, boaters and anglers as well as the Tulalip Tribes fisheries department, which routinely monitors marine life and the health of the estuary.
Eventually, the park could be home to a boardwalk, amphitheater and a waterfront building for special events, such as parties and weddings. The building also would be a place to rent watercraft, including kayaks, canoes and row boats. Planning documents also pencil in a restaurant on land the city would lease out near the park entrance.
It is all part of the transition from an industrial waterfront, Hirashima said. The last of the waterfront lumber mills is gone.
Along the way, the city purchased two large parcels from Welco Lumber Co. — the first to build the Ebey Waterfront Park; the other in June at its former mill, which closed in 2007. The city bought the 4.57-acre mill site in December for $880,000. It’s on the west side of the railroad tracks and has contaminated soil that must be cleaned up. Eventually, there could be a retention pond to collect stormwater runoff to better protect salmon and the habitat. A trail could pass through the land and stretch onto the Tulalip Indian Reservation.
Also along First Street the city in June bought a 6,400-square foot auto parts and repair business building for $522,000. It purchased an auto holding yard for $155,000 the previous year.
A key purchase was made in 2010 with acquisition of the 4.6-acre Geddes Marina. The property, bought for $1.9 million, had been used to moor boats since the late 1800s and became a full-fledged marina in 1947. At its peak, it housed about 100 boats. The city leased back to owners of the slips until 2013. Some of the tenants abandoned their structures or sold or donated them to the city.
The park and other improvements slated for downtown will offer a spruced-up entry point for people heading into town.
“It certainly will be a great welcome mat to Marysville once it’s done,” said Jim Ballew, the city’s parks and recreation director.
He said the work could bring a revitalized entertainment district with new restaurants and retail development to compliment the historic Marysville Opera House.
Lorene Wren operates Wrenhaven Vintage Market on Third Street. These days she looks out to the new traffic circles and street improvements along the thoroughfare in front of her shop and is encouraged.
“Going through the construction was really difficult on us small business owners, but now it is so beautiful,” she said.
Wren also has walked the new Qwuloolt Estuary trail. She envisions kayaks on the water and vibrancy in a more walkable downtown.
“I’m totally ecstatic about the things that are happening,” she said.
Tom King grew up on a poultry farm in the Sunnyside section of Marysville. As a child he could cut through a neighbor’s dairy farm to reach the water, but public access seemed limited to a tiny boat launch beneath the freeway.
King serves on the Marysville Parks, Culture and Recreation Board and uses the boat launch at the Ebey Waterfront Park. He’s looking forward to what the city does with the waterfront it now owns.
“We have more waterfront access than we ever did before,” he said. “We’ll have a whole different front door look to Marysville.”
These days, King is running for a spot on the Marysville City Council.
His opponent, Jeff Seibert, has served on the council for 16 years.
He, too, is excited about the possibilities for the waterfront.
When he moved to town in 1987, there were three mills on the waterfront. He sees the changes ahead similar to those made in Tacoma but on a smaller scale.
“We are trying to attract more people to the old downtown,” he said. “We really want to see downtown businesses survive, to make the downtown a destination. The waterfront is the best way to do that.”