Wrecking ball looms for old Everett building

EVERETT — Local history buffs are worried that civic leaders could end up erasing pieces of Everett’s architectural heritage in the name of reviving downtown.

A redevelopment project tied to Snohomish County’s new courthouse could take out a block on the south side of Hewitt Avenue. The area is part of a nationally recognized historic district between Colby Avenue and Broadway.

“It would really compromise the historic feeling of our downtown,” local historian Jack O’Donnell said.

The issue is a concern to both the nonprofit Historic Everett, where O’Donnell serves as secretary, and Everett’s advisory Historical Commission, where he’s vice chairman.

The block in question includes the condemned five-story Hodges Building on the southeast corner of Rockefeller and Hewitt avenues. The Hodges is one of four older structures still standing on the block, which lost the 1894 McCrossen Building in a 2012 fire that also claimed a man’s life.

A woman died in a fatal fire in the Hodges in December 2013 and the city later made tenants leave over unresolved code-enforcement issues.

Immediately west of Xfinity Arena, city leaders view the down-on-its-heels block as crucial for downtown. Lately, concerns have centered around parking.

The Hodges dates from 1923 and was designed by noted local architect Benjamin Turnbull, who also designed the 1910 Commerce Building across the street.

“They are two distinctly complementary structures by the same architect who had a profound impact on the central business district,” said David Dilgard, a history specialist at the Everett Public Library.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson’s administration has been sizing up the block for potential redevelopment for at least two years.

The city signed a $25,000 contract with Wallace Properties, Inc. of Bellevue to determine what might work. The consultant looked at the entire block, from Wall Street north to Hewitt, and Oakes Avenue west to Rockefeller.

The consultant said the block had high potential for development into retail and parking space but deemed the possibility of renovating the Hodges as too expensive. The estimated cost for overhauling the three-dozen apartment units inside worked out to at least $8.9 million. The consultant said it would be cheaper and make more business sense to tear down the nearly century-old edifice.

When the consultants were examining the Hodges the county had yet to decide to put an eight-story courthouse on the same block. The county in November 2013 decided to build the new courthouse on a county-owned parking lot there and six smaller business parcels condemned for the project.

Throughout 2014, city and county officials discussed how they might match their respective plans for a new courthouse and downtown economic development.

Stephanson and other city leaders said they were surprised to learn in late 2014 that the county had no apparent plans to partner on redevelopment, particularly on courthouse parking.

The City Council imposed a new requirement for the new courthouse to include more than 300 parking spaces. That action has kept the $162 million courthouse project in doubt ever since.

The County Council expects to hear back next week on negotiations to resolve the impasse, County Council Chairman Dave Somers said. An agreement would likely involve the city building a new structure with several hundred parking spaces and the county leasing several hundred of those stalls to satisfy the city’s requirements.

Other County Council members believe the county needs to rethink the plans and possibly pick a new location for the courthouse.

The agreement between the city and county could involve redeveloping the block of Hewitt Avenue that has preservationists worried. That’s not the only potential location, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.

“One of the issues under discussion is how close does it need to be to the courthouse,” Pembroke said. “The county’s interest is that it be relatively close. We haven’t reached a final agreement on that proposal yet.”

Hodges owner Pete Sikov said he talked to county staff periodically in 2014 about buying his building, but said the money discussed was far below what he expected. Sikov said he’s since entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement with a private developer for the Hodges Building. He also owns three of the other four parcels on that block of Hewitt Avenue, including the former McCrossen site, which are part of the potential sale.

Whatever happens, Dave Ramstad and other Everett preservationists want to keep as many buildings standing here as possible.

“When people come to Everett they see that it’s a real town,” said Ramstad, a board member of Historic Everett. “It’s not plastic.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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