Port of Everett resumes waterfront development

EVERETT — Several years after a more ambitious plan went bust, the Port of Everett is resuming development of waterfront land — this time retaining control and developing 45 acres in phases.

The $400 million Port Gardner Wharf development was stalled in 2007, before construction, by financing problems and the developer’s eventual bankruptcy proceedings.

With that dust settled, the Port of Everett’s three commissioners last week agreed on a strategy to build a mixed-use marina community that emphasizes boating, maritime business, jobs and public access.

The plan is not yet in writing. The port has hired Dykeman, an Everett design firm, to do the necessary months of planning for $511,000.

“We want to create an activated space for the whole community — whether they boat or not,” said port Commissioner Troy McClelland.

Plans include a village center that would serve as the heart of what is known as the Marina District. The focus of development will be a parcel between 15th and 12th streets, along West Marine View Drive.

The village would include apartments, restaurants, small shops, a boutique hotel, a clubhouse for marina tenants, an information office and a place for short-term marina guests to tie up their boats. It would be built south of 13th Street, in the area where Scuttlebutt Brewing Co. used to be.

Today that area is a mishmash of weathered buildings, parking lots and fenced-off storage. The buildings are scheduled for demolition at the end of this month, in preparation for environmental clean up.

The plan, which was described by the consultants at the commission’s regular meeting last week, calls for significant upgrades to nearby North Marina, including moorage for commercial vessels, guest moorage and an area of open water for small sailboat classes.

The failed Port Gardner Wharf development was a massive plan led by one developer. This time, the port itself would serve as master developer. That’s an important change that should enable the port to have control over how and when development happens, McClelland said.

“We can take this on in phases so we don’t overextend ourselves,” he said.

The port would form partnerships with multiple private companies, which would develop buildings on site.

Nearby, the port would like to build an employment center of office space, light manufacturing and other types of business.

Closer to the water, the port plans a large, open space for the public. There’s grass and weeds there now.

The nearby Everett Yacht Club would be transformed into a hospitality area that might include conference space and a hotel. It’s not clear where the yacht club would go — or if it might stay in place — and the port is working with the club on other locations.

The port hasn’t yet broached how to pay for the work or even how much it might cost. That’s an issue to be considered later this year.

The strategy that port commissioners approved calls for a staggered approach: Workers could get started on the marina work, village and hospitality area as early as 2014; the employment center and other improvements would come as money and the economy allow.

Port officials had high hopes for the Port Gardner Wharf project, which would have put as many as 660 condos and a mix of commercial and office buildings near the waterfront.

The port teamed up with Maritime Trust of Chicago in 2000 in a deal in which both parties would spend money and share the profits.

The plan began to unravel in 2009 when Everett Maritime, a subsidiary of Maritime Trust, filed for bankruptcy protection, a casualty of the economic downturn. The developer couldn’t find financing.

The next year, the port opted to terminate the contract with Maritime and scrap the project.

Even then, port staff and commissioners talked about going back to the drawing board.

Commissioner McClelland said it makes sense to lay the groundwork now for future development, since the port plans to redevelop the land at some point. Cleaning up brownfields isn’t going to get cheaper or easier, he said.

The port already has invested at least $83 million in improvements. Those include a marina for larger boats, a commercial area for marine businesses called the Craftsman District, environmental cleanup, and creation of a new street and trails.

Some improvments, such as rebuilding the bulkhead in the marina, would have been necessary in any event, said port spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber.

In the case of the new $9.6 million Waterfront Center, where Scuttlebutt Brewing Co. and the port’s offices are now, the port stepped in to pay the bills for work it deemed was necessary for the success of the port.

Lefeber said much of what’s reflected in the strategy incorporates ideas gathered from people’s comments, particularly an advisory group.

People told the port that housing shouldn’t be as dense as in the wharf plan, and the area needed a larger space for the public, Lefeber said. They also suggested that the area should become a destination for boaters and boating activity. Shops and other businesses need to support the marina, they said.

The city and the port have a development agreement passed in 2005 which might require small changes — or the port might need to start from scratch, said Allan Giffen, Everett’s planning and community development director.

The port is paying a consultant half a million dollars to rework the Port Gardner Wharf plan — including all of the new marina work.

Next, the consultant is to examine case studies of similar projects elsewhere. By fall, the port hopes to have a more solid plan in place that includes financing.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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