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Friday, December 3, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Evolving Everett: This isn't your father's dowdy mill town

Twenty years ago, Everett watched a stubborn tire fire smolder for months on its doorstep like a humiliating Halloween prank.

Today, the city is recruiting developers to convert the reclaimed land into a riverfront gateway befitting a confident, forward-looking community.

Ten years ago, residents avoided their moldy downtown. This fall marked the first anniversary of a dazzling Everett Events Center filled with robust, new energy.

Maybe a warning is appropriate here for readers on a low-carb diet. This could get pretty sugary about a place that has moved beyond planning to expecting results.

Indeed, that is what comes through in a chat with Mayor Ray Stephanson, on the job a year. Beyond the tribulations of municipal finances, the local frictions are the kind that come with movement, not frustrated ambitions.

The redevelopment canvas includes Southwest Everett, around Boeing and Paine Field, which is permitted and environmentally surveyed for 1,000 acres of large businesses and corporate headquarters.

One deal simmering away is the StockPot soup factory, which wants a new home when the Brightwater sewage treatment plant is built north of Woodinville. Another look into the future is SNBL USA, a research lab that bought more land last summer with an eye toward a thousand employees in the next decade.

Expansive waterfront development by the Port of Everett is in line to happen. Hundreds of condos, boat moorage galore and, perhaps, an amphitheater.

The waterfront may welcome the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from Seattle. The mayor says that means more ships and jobs, plus a Coast Guard presence that complements Naval Station Everett.

As the city evolves from a dowdy mill town with self-esteem issues, Everett has the room and attitude to grow and transform itself. Timber and aerospace jobs went away, but work is under way on what comes next.

The mayor is intent on growing the local economy by nurturing current employers, such as Providence Everett Medical Center. The hospital already owns property in the Donovan District for future parking and growth, but there is neighborhood resistance.

Look east across the tracks behind Everett Station, the city's all-in-one commuter hub and job-training center. The mayor envisions the land and warehouses for downtown residential development and space for artists. Think the Pearl District in Portland.

Stephanson says the challenges for the city are making the zoning compatible and working with property owners who want to preserve industrial uses.

Everett will attract people drawn to what they see in place and imagining what can happen next. Look for more young people and young families.

Last summer, Puget Sound Christian College announced plans to move from Mountlake Terrace to downtown Everett, which is already the home of Cogswell College. In June, Bastyr University in Kenmore said it would open a branch campus in the city's riverfront redevelopment. Stephanson says developers are advised their visions for the 100-acre site have to accommodate Bastyr's presence.

Stephanson and Snohomish County officials want to land a prize that has eluded the region for decades, a state university. The mayor believes a campus with a polytechnical focus on engineering and science is the best possibility. He estimates a five- to eight-year campaign is needed to get the state to rethink higher education and higher-education funding into three tiers: research and technical universities, four-year colleges and community colleges.

Everett is a work in progress, but the graph tracks upward. Emergency city money to support the Events Center has not been needed. The arena is home to a popular Western Hockey League team and hosts an eclectic mix of shows. The center's success is evident at the box office and by the attention it receives from tour managers and promoters.

Everett's economic resiliency faces an interesting test. Downtown office space will empty when the county leaves temporary quarters and returns to its own renovated campus.

The region is inching toward operational rationality with its dual — and mystifying — transit systems, Everett Transit and Community Transit. They divide service between local and regional riders. But, still, why two systems?

City finances remain a struggle with decimated business and operational tax collections from Boeing, a stronger pulse in sales-tax revenues and flat property taxes. The city is facing negotiation of three major union contracts. Stunning health-cares costs and the prospect of employees picking up a share of the costs for the first time drive those talks.

Everett is doing, not watching or wishing.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is ldickie@seattletimes.com. Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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