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Jim Davis, Editor
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Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013

Everett mayor is upbeat in State of the City address

EVERETT — In his 10th State of the City address, Mayor Ray Stephanson was glad to report that the city’s finances are in “remarkable shape” despite the recession that started in 2008.

Speaking to members of Economic Alliance Snohomish County Thursday morning at the Everett Golf and Country Club, Stephanson credited the city’s finance staff and the cooperation of the city’s labor unions for keeping Everett’s expenses in check while avoiding layoffs and involuntary furloughs.

That cooperation helped the city improve its bond rating three times to AA+, which he said is “almost unprecedented” among municipalities nationwide since the recession began. The improved rating helped the city save $10 million on a recent refinance of $72 million in municipal bonds, he said.

“The city lives under a new economic norm now,” Stephanson said.

The new normal might not be so bad though. “I do see an improving economy,” the mayor said.

The community banks that survived the recession are starting to make more loans to small businesses that are starting to hire more workers.

Stephanson expects to see some industrial jobs return to the site of the former Kimberly-Clark paper mill on Everett’s Port Gardner waterfront. The company’s closure of the mill in April 2012 cost 700 good-paying jobs. Kimberly-Clark has been demolishing buildings on the site since August to clear it for redevelopment.

The mayor believes the site has a bright future since it’s one of only three deep-water ports on the West Coast with development potential. He wants to see an operation that supports the aerospace sector and could improve the neighboring Port of Everett’s capacity without encroaching on ship movements at Naval Station Everett.

Stephanson said he spoke with Bellingham’s mayor about what that city learned in the years after the closure of the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill on its waterfront while the city weighed zoning and redevelopment options. The Everett City Council and planning commission retained the Kimberly-Clark site’s industrial zoning, a decision the mayor lauded.

“I think we came to the best possible decision on this issue,” Stephanson said. “We’re in a positive place on the waterfront plan.”

On the other side of the city, the mayor said Everett’s riverfront project development partner, OliverMcMillan, received a letter of intent from Polygon Homes to take over all development of the mixed-use residential and retail property along the Snohomish River. He said he expects to see construction activity begin there in the next 12 to 18 months after the recession kept the project on hold.

In the downtown core, Stephanson said he signed paperwork obligating Touchstone Corp. to complete its financing by June and begin construction of a Courtyard by Marriott hotel at Colby Avenue and Wall Street by October or Touchstone forfeits $500,000. Lobsang Dargey, developer of Potala Village at the corner of Pacific and Rucker avenues, has started site preparation for a new Everett Farmers Market, hotel and apartment complex at Grand Avenue and Wall Street. It’s called Pagoda Village.

Stephanson acknowledged two of Everett’s shortcomings: median family income that’s $10,000 less than the state average and a shortage of residents with college degrees.

“We can’t wish that away,” he said, but education is the answer.

The mayor noted how well Everett Community College and Washington State University are integrating their engineering programs to feed more graduates into the local workforce. The Boeing Co. is clamoring for engineers to replace those approaching retirement in coming years.

“I fully expect to see a WSU campus in Everett in our lifetimes that will rival the Pullman campus,” Stephanson said.

Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; kbatdorf@heraldnet.com.