Marysville residents simply aren’t proud of their downtown, said Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring.
One downtown Marysville business owner recently moved his business elsewhere and commented that he was discouraged with the decline of the area, said Gloria Hirashima, Marysville’s community development director.
“I'm hearing that comment more and more in my work and it's something I don't like to hear. That's not something I feel proud of as a city employee and I think it’s important that we start reversing that trend,” she said.
Marysville officials have been attempting to reverse that trend for a few years now and, in an effort to make progress, have hired a consultant team to give recommendations on the Marysville waterfront, which they heard on Jan. 25.
The consulting group has worked on thousands of development projects nationwide. They were hired for $34,000, reports the Everett Herald.
Dave Leland, a consultant from Leland Consulting Group of Portland, said that many cities have waterfronts with great potential that aren’t being used.
“You know, in the last 20 years or so there are cities all over the country that are rediscovering the waterfronts that have been largely forgotten for fifty to a hundred years,” he said. “When [the waterfront] comes back, it doesn't come back with historical usages, which are largely industrial, because there just aren't that many uses that require waterfront for industry anymore. But it comes back with mixed use, public access and recreation.”
Currently most citizens are not that engaged with the downtown, said Nehring. They mostly just want to see it cleaned up, he added.
Twenty percent of Marysville drug crime happens in the downtown area, he said, but revitalization can help move those crimes out of the area.
Marysville councilmember Michael Stevens pointed out that no one can really point to the “heart of Marysville” because the city has never really established one.
“This waterfront is really an opportunity to create a gateway identity for Marysville that's not defined only by the freeway signs,” he said.
The final recommendations of the consulting team included using the publicly-owned waterfront property as a space with housing, parks and trails connecting to other parks and the future Qwuloolt estuary.
Leland acknowledged that this plan is typically disappointing to officials who want to see more retail and jobs created in their downtown; however, he said it was the most likely to be sustainable.
“If retail doesn’t have visibility and access, it dies. And that’s the reason why retails on waterfronts don’t usually last,” he said.
Bringing in more residents to an area also gives the area more potential for retail. Each resident who shops downtown supports about eight to ten square feet of retail space, said Leland.
“This is just one part of downtown revitalization, and if we get the heads down there you could see the retail driven there as well so it could help generate a downtown revitalization. I’m not saying it would, but it has the potential,” said Nehring.
The consultant team also recommended work that needed to be done to First Street, including putting rows of trees down the sidewalks to mask the “heavy, overwhelming” south wall of the downtown mall.
Councilmember Jeff Vaughan expressed some hesitance that housing between the city’s sewer lagoon and train tracks could be profitable.
Leland said that, while train noise is not beneficial, housing projects have been successful near train tracks as people become acclimated to the disruption. “It's almost like living under the flight path of an airport, in that the people get used to it and they stop hearing the noise,” he said.
With the advantage of the waterfront and the ease of access to north Everett, housing development is the most marketable route to go, according to the consultant group.
The city of Marysville purchased the Geddes Marina property in 2010. What to do with the former marina property was under heavy discussion.
Paul Sorenson, a consultant from BST Associates who has worked with many marinas on the west coast, is skeptical that a marina is a financially viable option.
Marinas across the country are suffering from vacancies and a declining business, he said. Since 2007 the amount of vacancies in marinas has only increased.
The average age of a boater is 58, while in 1998 the average age was in the mid-40s, he said, which raises real questions about the financial stability of marinas in the long-term. The younger generations are not spending their recreation dollars on boats as much anymore, he said.
Leland knows people like marinas for the feel that they give to the area, but said that there are better alternatives.
“The marina is a romantic waterfront activity, but there are other ways to get that romance onto the waterfront without having to run a negative investment in the marina,” he said. “We have to build some kind of romance and excitement into the area if you want people to come, but it doesn't necessarily have to be dis-economic.”
Implementation and the Future
“I can look at plans going back thirty years and the community has always wanted to take advantage of the waterfront community and it’s never been realized,” said Hirashima. “I think it’s something as a community we've talked about for decades but haven't figured out a way to make happen yet.”
Many city officials expressed a desire to begin revitalization, and not just plan for the future. Leland said the current plan has the potential to happen quickly and with economic success. “You don't need a pretty picture you can't implement,” he said.
If started in the near future Marysville may be able to finish housing during an upswing of the real estate market, which would be advantageous as well, Leland said.
John Owens, a consultant from Makers who also helped with the city’s downtown master plan in 2009, is optimistic that a transformation is possible. “[Areas] have gone from places you wouldn’t want to be to places that are attractive. I wouldn’t want you to be discouraged even though it’s going to take a lot of effort.”
Owens compared the Marysville waterfront with the turnaround he has seen at the Foss Waterway in Tacoma. Before the Foss Waterway was publicly owned “it made [Marysville's waterfront] look like a garden. It really did, I'm not exaggerating,” he said.
The property had very serious clean-up problems with arsenic and heavy metals and less serious problems like the bad pickles that a local pickle plant had flushed away. On top of that, a train track cut the area off from downtown Tacoma, he said.
After the city bought the property it languished for ten years, said Owens, but then officials began developing it. Now there are condos, museums and retail in the area.
Marysville's not that big, but it also doesn't need that dramatic a turnaround to be successful, he said.
A community meeting for greater public input on downtown revitalization issues is scheduled for April 10.