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Tom Hoban

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Jim Davis, Editor
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Published: Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kimberly Clark Everett mill’s future splits community

When the Kimberly Clark Corp. announced in March that it was selling its Everett mill, it kicked off a discussion in the business and development community around what might happen in its place. A buyer is apparently identified, but Kimberly Clark will not offer any details. Any process to sell the plant would take months, say experts, and a buyer might not be able to make that mill pencil any better than can Kimberly Clark. In real estate terms, the Kimberly Clark plant and the land under it are still “in play.”

The pattern with Everett’s mills is pretty clear at this point: Labor, power and other costs eventually make producing pulp and paper-based products too expensive here and the mills shut down. One other pattern is also clear: Downtown Everett has never quite reached its potential and one reason for that is its view lines and waterfront access are blocked by the Kimberly Clark mill. The opportunity to step in with an option to purchase the land and control the future on Everett’s front porch sits before citizens on a silver platter.

However, there seem to be two camps somewhat at odds about what Everett should be and how it should get there, triggered by the sale of the mill. Mayor Ray Stephanson will have no part in any sort of discussion around other uses there, referring to such talk as “elitist” in an Everett City Council meeting shortly after the announcement. So any vision for Everett and its downtown connection to the waterfront and opening view lines to stimulate more development will have to come from elsewhere.

Those in the other camp see a two-plus-two-equals-five scenario around the mill. Planning for the next use would be about replacement jobs and removing the smokestack and taller buildings on the site to open up view lines and pedestrian access to the waterfront, thereby stimulating more activity in downtown where the zoning, infrastructure and densities want it to be.

Unlike Everett’s two big shovel-ready projects — Port Gardner Wharf and Riverfront — the Kimberly Clark mill site has unique water, sewer and power support, making it an appealing place for a variety of uses along the rail line and access roads. Like areas of Redmond or Bothell, bringing in jobs stimulates retail and residential areas around it.

The mill site is large enough create far more jobs than the 600-plus there today and, if planned properly, would offer public access on a quiet, family-friendly, calm, inner bay. The connectivity to downtown is what makes it particularly special. Height limits and public access would have to be part of any sort of redevelopment. A complicated and probably costly industrial clean-up effort would be the trade off.

Not since The Navy coming to town in the 1980s has Everett proven it can harness the collective energy of citizens, business leaders and government for a common cause. Providence Hospital had to swim against the local current for a long time, so it doesn’t count. Public and private benefits to controlling what happens next at the Kimberly Clark site are the kind of thing that requires everyone coming together.

City government is taking a pass on this one, says Everett’s mayor. So this movement will have to come from somewhere else. But the opportunity to act is now. Kimberly Clark’s For Sale sign created it.

Tom Hoban is co-owner of Everett-based Coast group of commercial real estate companies. Contact him at tomhoban@coastmgt.com or 425-339-3638.