Remembering Everett’s All-America summer of 2002

First try, first win. That’s how Everett won bragging rights 10 years ago, when it was honored with an All-America City Award.

With summer’s end just a week off, I’m looking back at the summer of 2002. That July, I was lucky enough to go to Washington, D.C., where Everett and other All-America Cities were recognized.

The National Civic League gives the prize to 10 communities each year, selecting those that stand out with innovation and collaboration.

Winners “have what it takes — and what it takes is working together,” Mel Martinez, then Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said during the July 31, 2002 ceremony in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. “Our citizens should be so proud,” Dale Preboski, then Everett’s spokeswoman, said that day.

The ceremony in the nation’s capital capped a big effort for Everett that year. Mayor Ed Hansen was leading the city, and Preboski headed a 15-member All-America City Steering Committee. She said she remembers Hansen saying, “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to win.”

The city began the process with $5,000 in seed money approved by the Everett City Council, and in all spent $25,000 in what Herald writer Theresa Goffredo wrote was its “reach for the coveted gold ring known as the All-America City Award.”

Thirty finalists were announced in May 2002. That June, a 49-person delegation — city leaders, business people and involved neighbors — traveled to Kansas City, Mo. They impressed the selection committee with a skit, “Northwest to the Future,” and two interview sessions.

Kate Reardon, now the city’s spokeswoman, said the group highlighted three projects: the Everett Station transit center, the Cocoon House shelter for at-risk teens and the beautification of Wiggums Hollow Park.

“Everett Station was on the cutting edge at the time. I remember Gov. Gary Locke talking about this multi-tasking facility,” Reardon said. “Wiggums Hollow was a huge community undertaking that brought together nonprofits, government and education. And Cocoon House showed how the community cares for its people.

“Those three things still point to who we are. We are proud of them,” Reardon said.

Paul Kaftanski, Everett Parks and Recreation director, was part of the group in Kansas City. He had been project manager for Everett Station, which he sees as more than a transit building. The station brought together WorkSource and the University Center that’s now at Everett Community College.

As parks director, he sees Wiggums Hollow as “a gem for the Delta neighborhood.” It now has a skate park.

For Everett, the prize offered more than the chance to display the red, white and blue All-America City shield on signs and city correspondence. It was seen as a way to show off the city as a destination for business and opportunity.

Art Ruben, now retired from the insurance business, was part of the award delegation. “We got it on the first try. There were cities that had gone back multiple times trying for the designation,” the Everett man said.

Ruben grew up in northeast Everett near Wiggums Hollow. He was involved in the Everett Parks Foundation that helped transform the park. The Wiggums project brought together a diverse group, including schoolchildren.

“Everett always sat in the shadow of Seattle, but I think we’re taking more and more pride in the community,” Ruben said.

The city can display its All-America City designation as long as the year it was received is also used. The symbol is seen less now than in years past, Reardon said, although some signs are still up.

Everett considered trying again for the award in 2005, but decided against it, Reardon said. And with the economic downturn in recent years, seeking an award hasn’t been a high priority.

Today, Everett has much more to brag about than it did in 2002.

The following year brought the opening of the Everett Events Center, now Comcast Arena. The Everett Silvertips Hockey Club has become a fan favorite, with its Lincoln the Bear mascot.

New on the Everett landscape are the expanded Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, state-of-the-art new buildings at Everett Community College and the arrival of a Washington State University degree program, the Schack Art Center, the Library Place complex, and Village Theatre’s new children’s facility in the old Key Bank building. A plaza park is being built on Wetmore Avenue between the children’s theater and Everett Performing Arts Center.

The arena alone has opened the city to a wide world of entertainment and sports. “Justin Bieber was here,” Reardon said.

“There are lots of new things we could showcase,” Reardon said. “And we’re still embracing the very gems of our city that got us our award.”

For the near future, she said the focus will be on Everett’s waterfront, where the Kimberly-Clark mill has just closed, and the Everett Riverfront District development.

Preboski looks back at the 2002 award quest as “a kind of launching period” for Everett. “I think it got us moving in a different direction,” Preboski said. The Wiggums project especially brought people of different backgrounds together. “That was important to Everett’s evolution, just the coming together,” she said.

“None of us knows what the next project will be, but we know there will be one,” Preboski said.

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

All-America City Award

The National Civic League recognizes 10 communities each year for civic efforts. Everett won the league’s All-America City Award in 2002. In seeking the award, Everett highlighted three projects: Cocoon House, Everett Station and Wiggums Hollow Park. Information: www.allamericacityaward.com/about-2/

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