Everett, Washington, has always been a boating town. Boats and ships of all sizes have been navigating Port Gardner Bay long before the city was founded in 1890, and today both the U.S. Navy base and the Port of Everett Marina—the largest public moorage facility on the West Coast—draw vessels from near and far.
But for most of the last century, Everett had an image problem. Its waterfront was untethered from the city itself.
For decades, much of the waterfront at the mouth of the Snohomish River was dominated by shingle factories, boat-builders, and wood pulp mills. In the early 20th century, Everett’s industrial boom earned the city the nicknames “Milltown” and “City of Smokestacks.” Then the city’s commercial center of gravity shifted further south to the Boeing plant in the 1970s, and Everett was known more for boatbuilding than sheltering recreational boats. When Naval Station Everett came to town in the early 1990s, it purchased land from the Port of Everett, generating $40 million to build a massive marina with 2,300 boat slips and 5,000 feet of guest dock space.
Today, another new marina renaissance is underway at the Port of Everett. Beginning in 2018, the Port started work on the Waterfront Place project, a 1.5-million-square-foot, mixed-use development on 65 acres, bringing in new retailers, restaurants, boatyard businesses, and residential complexes to the docks, all arranged in a more concentrated, walkable “town square” environment.
“I’m happy to report we are officially in the home stretch,” said Lisa Lefeber, CEO of the Port of Everett. “This project is transforming the Port of Everett Marina, making it a true destination marina.”
John Seger, Commodore of the Everett Yacht Club, was blunt about his assessment of the area. “Everett wasn’t much of a destination, really,” he said. “Having people living around the marina will bring more foot traffic. The facility upgrades will make it a nicer, more welcoming place to visit.”
The first phase of the project, a $50 million development called Fisherman’s Harbor, is nearing completion with the opening of a new marina-wide promenade and Pacific Rim Plaza, featuring a soon-to-be-iconic public fountain. Other additions include the 142-room Hotel Indigo and 266 new condo and apartment units.
Last fall, the Port broke ground on new restaurant and retail foundations, including Fisherman Jack’s restaurant and the South Fork Bakery. Later this year, Lefeber said the Port hopes to open a new Woods Coffee shop, a Sound2Summit brewery, a wine bar, more tap rooms, an ice cream shop, a café, and a year-round fish market.
In addition to all the new restaurant and hospitality businesses coming to Waterfront Place, there are some familiar boating groups, plus a few fresh ones, who are looking to add amenities for boating members.
One of the oldest and most recognizable is the Everett Yacht Club, which has been around since 1907. Last year, the club vacated its old clubhouse to relocate to anexisting structure that used to house the old Port Administration Building in South Marina. The new space, which includes on observation tower with commanding views of the marina, should be open by May or June.
“We had been looking for a new place for several years,” Seger said. “The new building had been too small for the way we ran the club in the past. But we’ve changed since then, and we’re getting rid of the events business.”
One of the most attractive aspects of the club’s new space will be its location overlooking Commodore Park, above 150 feet of moorage space. “We’re a cruising club,” he explained. “Boaters either come and sit on their boats or go to the marina on Friday nights. The Port wasn’t a really public space before, but now we expect more members will use the dock.”
Waterline Boats has also secured a brand-new space near K Dock and the Pacific Rim fountain. Gretchen Miles, a Waterline Boats broker, said their building should be open sometime this month. “Between Seattle and Anacortes, there weren’t many places worth stopping at,” she said. “It’s going to be a nice draw with the redevelopment.”
Best of all, Miles added, the brokerage will be adjacent to “beautiful display moorage, so we can show our boats in front of our office. We’re going to be near all sorts of activities, events, and new restaurants.”
Another new tenant on K Dock will be the Freedom Boat Club, whose members can reserve use of the club’s five boats for day use or extended cruises. The club, which has a dozen locations around Puget Sound, expects to increase its fleet size to nine boats by the end of 2022, said sales manager Keith Lemley.
“Everett, in general, is really having a resurgence,” Lemley said. “There are a lot of growth opportunities for us, plus greater accessibility to the San Juan Islands. Also, people who live in condos don’t have places to store a boat, so we’ve become a great fit for them.”
All told, Waterfront Place is predicted to attract $550 million in new public-private investment to the city, Lefeber said. Once all new businesses are in place, she said the project should support more than 2,000 family-wage jobs, in addition to many more temporary construction jobs during build-out in the next phase expansions.
Just to the south of the marina, Everett’s “Mills to Maritime” project will add marine businesses on the site of the former Kimberly-Clark pulp mill. Once completed this fall, a new 40-acre cargo terminal will generate even more marine-industry jobs in the region.
Waterfront Place, as well, has made marine businesses another major focus. Future plans include a new commercial fishing pier and support infrastructure for Everett’s fishing fleet. The Port has also created a “Craftsman District” boatyard to support the local boat repair and maintenance industry.
In December of 2021, the Port also announced it had selected a developer to begin planning for the second and largest phase of the project, an area dubbed the “Millwright District” that will be
devoted to establishing a waterfront employment hub, supporting office users with surrounding destination retail, residential, and public spaces. This phase is expected to break ground in 2023.
All in all, the future of the Port is looking bright, with the hope that once the work is completed in the old “City of Smokestacks,” Everett will no longer be just another moorage stop between Seattle and the San Juans, but a desirable destination in its own right. “At Waterfront Place, we are building a community where you can do five things year-round,” Lefeber concludes. “You can eat, drink, sleep, work, and recreate all in one place.”