Riverfront development solid, Everett officials say

EVERETT — Now that Port Gardner Wharf’s upscale condos are on ice, there’s just one ambitious redevelopment project left along the water in the city.

The Riverfront project — which would bring trendy shops and condos along the Snohomish River near I-5 — is sitting on a good foundation, city officials said.

But the San Diego developer, OliverMcMillan, just laid off a development director, Charlie Hickcox.

“They felt the need to cut some people,” Hickcox said.

The company’s finances are sound, said Dan Nishikawa, Hickcox’s replacement at OliverMcMillan.

Still, a rough retail and housing environment may mean the project will open in stages, city officials said. Much of it was first planned to open at the same time.

The first shops at the development are expected to open by spring 2012, at least a year later than originally planned. After being finished, the project is envisioned to rival Bellevue Square in size.

The Everett City Council — which has already approved spending tens of millions of dollars on the Riverfront project, much of it through federal and state grants — on Wednesday approved spending an additional $1.8 million on groundwork at the development.

There’s no reason to believe the Everett Riverfront Project will suffer a similar fate as Port Gardner Wharf, said Debra Bryant, the city’s top budget official.

“They are still a very viable company and still moving forward on the project,” she said.

City Councilman Mark Olson said it’s important to draw distinctions between the city’s two waterfront projects.

While they both involve government entities creating partnerships with private development companies, Everett’s Riverfront project required a large payment from the developer up front.

Unlike the port’s project, which displaced businesses and jobs in an active industrial area, the Everett Riverfront project involved mostly vacant land.

“No one could have predicted this. This isn’t to blame anybody,” Olson said. “But maybe the port needs to revision the ambitious scope and scale of the project and start with something more practical and bring back other industries that used to be down there.”

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429, dchircop@heraldnet.com.

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