EVERETT — Despite impassioned pleas, the Port of Everett commission refused a “stay of execution” for the Collins Building on Tuesday, voting 2-1 to demolish the historic structure described by one supporter as the “last vestige” of Everett’s once all-important lumber economy.
The decision included an agreement to spend up to $400,000 to have the building carefully torn apart so that useful windows, beams and columns can be reused, perhaps for a community greenhouse in Mukilteo or a public market in Everett.
All the seats at the commission meeting were filled Tuesday and many in attendance asked to speak before a final decision was made on the Collins Building, which is on the state and national registers of historic places.
The building, built in 1926, was long owned by the Hulbert family. It was purchased by the port in 1991 and is called the Collins Building because it was used by the Collins Casket Co. until 1996.
Former port commissioner and city council member Ed Morrow asked that the building be saved as a reminder of the many timber-related companies that crammed the waterfront during Everett’s founding.
“History and saving some of the past is extremely important to society,” he said. “The Collins building is the only surviving example of the bay-front mills that were the industrial backbone of our city, the City of Smokestacks.”
Richard Sullivan, who headed a redevelopment group that was unable to secure financing to upgrade the building, implored commissioners to give the community 60 days to come up with a new plan.
He said there was no immediate need to remove the building because redevelopment of the area is on hold and development of an adjacent boatyard also wasn’t urgent.
“We have a unique opportunity because of the economy,” he said, noting that costs for upgrading the building and finding a new use for it should be at a low point because of the recession.
Sullivan said he was committed to bringing talented people together to save the building if the commissioners could provide another 60 days. “The Everett waterfront is enormously important to the community,” he said.
Mark Olson, who is running for the port commission this fall, noted that as an Everett City Councilman he voted against having the building placed on the historic register because he thought the designation would harm waterfront redevelopment. Now that the developer for the project has declared bankruptcy, he said the redevelopment has lost its urgency and he has changed his mind.
“This building is the last vestige of a timber economy that once defined our community,” he said.
Jeff Hall of Everett also said history is important.
“One of the quickest ways to destroy a community is to destroy the history of the community,” he said.
Charlene Rawson, chairwoman of the Port Gardner Neighborhood Association, also asked for more time.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said. “We can’t replace it. I would ask for a stay of execution for the building. It could be a world-class public market.”
Port Commissioner Michael Hoffmann voted for providing the community another 60 days to save the building, agreeing that its immediate destruction wasn’t necessary.
Commissioner Connie Niva disagreed, saying the panel had been talking about the building for years, had provided an opportunity for someone to come up with a plan to save it that didn’t involve public money, and was not acting in haste.
“I simply think that eventually we have to make a decision,” she said.
She noted that the building was in terrible shape and would be costly to bring up to code to ensure public safety.
Commissioner Phil Bannan agreed, saying it would cost millions for the port to do the work and he didn’t think the building was worth it.
“It has no foundation and the pilings underneath it all need shoring up,” he said, referring to the building as “a termite picnic.”
“I just can’t go with spending public money on it,” he said. “My job is to put my hand over the public wallet.”
The port’s Jerry Heller said there’s no date for what the port is calling the building’s deconstruction, and that the first thing that needs to be done is to have an expert take a look at the building.
“We need to determine how to get those (usable) parts out of there in a safe manner,” he said. Earlier, he had noted that Mukilteo officials were interested in some of the windows for a community garden and that Everett officials had discussed using some of the building parts for a public market building on the city’s riverfront.
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