Proposal to rename park a fitting tribute to Drew Nielsen

In the spring, kids getting ready for baseball play catch in Everett’s Northwest Neighborhood Park.

The park hosts an annual Easter egg hunt, sponsored this year by Girl Scout Troop 43733. Every September, friends gather there for the Northwest Neighborhood’s potluck picnic. And all year long, that half-acre in a century-old neighborhood is used by children, dog walkers, and hospital workers.

Hundreds of people enjoy the playground, gazebo and grassy field. Many may not know that without Drew Nielsen’s efforts, the place might have been a parking lot or hospital building.

Nielsen, an Everett City Council member, died last May 12 in a rafting accident.

After his death, Nielsen was publicly honored at an Everett City Council meeting and a memorial at Everett Station. A mountain hemlock tree was planted in his memory at Everett Community College.

Now, the city is acting to make official an idea raised nearly a year ago. Last May, when the City Council took time to honor the member it had lost, there was talk of naming the Northwest Neighborhood Park after Nielsen. That’s likely to happen soon.

On April 23, the Everett Historical Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposal to rename the park at 13th Street and Colby Avenue the Drew Nielsen Neighborhood Park.

Jan Meston, a community development specialist with the city, said that after the April 23 meeting the commission will make a recommendation to the City Council. A decision will likely come after the City Council hears from the public at its May 15 meeting, Meston said.

The property, a city park today, had been owned since the late 1960s by what is now Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. The hospital’s Colby Campus was Everett General Hospital for years before a 1994 hospital merger.

“Drew was a leading force behind convincing the hospital not to expand west into the neighborhood. They finally adopted this idea to go east,” said Tim Knopf, who lives near Everett Community College. Years ago, Knopf and Nielsen served together as officers of the Northwest Neighborhood Association.

“I was secretary, Drew was treasurer. He used to say, ‘I’ll be treasurer as long as there’s no money’ — typically Drew,” Knopf recalled.

When it looked like the hospital planned to build on its vacant property, which had been used as open space by neighbors for years, “Drew was our point person,” Knopf said.

“He was so calm and rational and convincing. He met with them repeatedly. When it was still owned by the hospital, they let us build the gazebo and the pergola,” Knopf said.

Nielsen, who lived less than a block from the park, was one of several neighbors who helped build the structures. Among them were Jeff Hardy, Falken Forshaw, Hap Wertheimer, Jerry Smith and Knopf.

After more than a decade of leasing the lot to the neighborhood group, for a dollar a year, in 2006 the hospital transferred ownership of the property to the city. That happened in exchange for Providence being allowed to vacate a block of Rockefeller Avenue, between 13th and 14th streets, to make way hospital expansion. More than 20 homes, designed by Edward Donovan and built in the 1920s, were either moved or leveled.

Barbara Lamoureux, who owns an Everett real estate business, was part of the neighborhood association with Nielsen, and had known him in his work as a real estate attorney. She launched a petition drive to keep the hospital from developing the park land.

She remembered a Providence plan to build its women’s and children’s facility, now on Pacific Avenue, on the park site. When that didn’t happen, “they were going to turn it into a parking lot,” Lamoureux said. “That’s when Drew got really involved.”

At that time, Nielsen was on the city’s Council of Neighborhoods. That’s how Everett’s Connie Eden got to know him. She was on the Council of Neighborhoods as a View Ridge-Madison representative. “We became very good friends,” Eden said.

“He could always say the hard thing that needed to be said in a way that nobody was offended,” Eden said. “Drew was somebody who loved Everett very much. He really wanted Everett to be the best it could be.”

At the park Friday morning, there were chalk drawings along the sidewalk, colorful signs of kids having fun on a spring day.

“It would never have happened had he not been there. Drew was definitely not afraid to roll up his sleeves,” said Everett City Council member Brenda Stonecipher.

More than physical work at the park, Stonecipher said Nielsen lent legal expertise to the city. “He would do his own research, and at times redraft things. He wasn’t afraid to say, ‘This can be better,’” Stonecipher said.

“Drew was the guiding light behind the park idea,” said Knopf. “Calling it Drew Nielsen Neighborhood Park, it’s the best description.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Public hearing

The Everett Historical Commission will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. April 23 on a proposal to rename Northwest Neighborhood Park after Everett City Council member Drew Nielsen, who died last May. The proposed name is Drew Nielsen Neighborhood Park. The meeting will be in the eighth-floor Hearing Room of the Wall Street Building, 2930 Wetmore Ave., Everett. Mail written comments, by April 22, to: Department of Planning and Community Development, 2930 Wetmore Ave., Suite 8A, Everett, WA 98201, or email Jmeston@ci.everett.wa.us.

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