Naval Station Everett -- `Frosting On The Cake' For A City In Renaissance -- First Navy Ships Arrive At Their New Home Port On Saturday

EVERETT - When sailors aboard the USS Ford and USS Ingraham steam into their new home port Saturday, they'll see a waterfront and skyline in transition.

The Scott Paper Co.'s active smokestacks and sawdust mountains, symbols of Everett's industrial past, stand next to the city's grandest hope for its future: the nation's newest and most environmentally friendly Navy base, expected to cost $466 million when complete.

Above the harbor with its log rafts and barking sea lions rises the city's downtown landscape, topped by a symbol of Everett's rebirth - the new 12-story Colby Square office tower, the tallest in Snohomish County. Construction work continues on the project, which includes the new Everett Community Theater.

"It's absolutely Everett's time," said developer Henry Dean, a partner in Colby Square and two other key downtown redevelopment projects.

A lot has changed since 1984, when the Navy announced plans to build an aircraft-carrier base in Everett. A fleet of at least 13 warships was expected to tie up in Port Gardner Bay by 1988.

In those years, the Navy was expected to generate 20 percent of the county's population growth. Since then, Snohomish County has emerged as one of the state's fastest-growing counties. Although the Navy is expected to add more than 16,600 new residents, that probably will account for only about 8 percent of the county's population growth between 1987 and the end of the century.

Ten years ago, the city's downtown district was in distress, its decades of decline compounded in the '70s by the infamous Boeing bust and the opening of the Everett Mall.

Many county and city leaders counted on the Navy to reverse that trend and anxiously watched as political setbacks, court challenges and shrinking military budgets threatened their dream.

Ten years later, Everett's promised fleet has shrunk to seven warships, still headed by a nuclear-powered carrier. The Navy recently announced the USS Abraham Lincoln will arrive in December 1996, after a year of maintenance at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. Four destroyers are to arrive in 1995 and 1996; the ships arriving this weekend are guided-missile frigates.

Meanwhile, Everett's renaissance has gotten under way, with a half-dozen new construction projects and key redevelopment efforts in the greater downtown area. That turnaround has been boosted by Boeing's nearly billion-dollar investment in the community, in the form of its new 777 plant, as well as by business and investment opportunities presented by the Navy.

"It all would have happened anyway," said Art Skotdal, an Everett developer and businessman who is building a five-story office and townhouse project in the city's downtown core. "I think (the Navy) will be frosting on the cake, but . . . downtown has been turning around the last 15 years."

Two of Dean's projects - Colby Square and a recent renovation of the city's historic Monte Cristo Hotel - also were financed independently of Navy expectations.

But Dean's renovation of another boarded-up eyesore, the former downtown Bon Marche, is directly linked to the Navy's arrival. Financing for that $9.5 million office project was conditional upon the Navy leasing the top two floors of the five-level building for the Navy's superintendent of shipbuilding and repair.

Dean expects the Navy to greatly accelerate Everett's economic turnaround, "beyond anything any of us can imagine."

Although the downtown business district is expected to greatly benefit, individual businesses shouldn't expect huge new profits.

"The Navy's going to spend money, no doubt about it. But nobody's gonna get rich. The lower pay grades don't have a lot of money to spend," said Jim Kinslow, a retired Navy aircraft-maintenance master chief.

Many sailors will do their shopping at the Navy's family support complex now under construction at Smokey Point, north of Marysville, where they'll get a 20 to 25 percent discount on purchases, he said.

Economic impact will be huge

But in broader, regional terms, the Navy's impact will be vast. Navy spending is twofold: incomes spent by Navy personnel and employees, and resources spent by the Navy to supply its base and ships.

"People need to understand that having the Navy come to this community is like having GTE and Scott Paper all of a sudden decide to move here and move 90 percent of their employees from some other place," said John Thoreson, director of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council.

By the time the carrier arrives, the Navy will employ about 5,880 military personnel plus about 733 civilian employees. When related private-sector jobs and new retiree populations are added, total Navy-related population is expected to top 16,600.

Washington now ranks as the fifth most popular state for Navy retirees, after California, Florida, Virginia and Texas. Retirees tend to settle near military services, so more retired Navy personnel are expected to settle in Snohomish County after the Smokey Point family support complex opens in September 1995.

Construction is proceeding simultaneously on all buildings in the $34.4 million Smokey Point project, which includes 72 units of bachelor-officer housing, a chapel, gym, library, auto and hobby shop, family services, continuing education, and a large commissary and post exchange (PX). Construction is to be finished by next June.

Until the new PX is open, a temporary store will operate at the Everett base.

For the state, the Navy is expected to generate about $38.2 million per year in new tax revenue, in 1994 dollars, Thoreson said. Although much of that is off-balanced by new state expenditures such as schools and social and health services, the state will have a net yearly gain of about $6.4 million, he said.

Here come the house-hunters

Perhaps the biggest short-term impact will be upon the housing industry, because the Navy has long assumed the private sector will supply apartments and houses for its Everett-based sailors.

A consultant's report recently completed for the Navy predicts a shortage of 672 units of affordable housing when the USS Abraham Lincoln arrives in late 1996. All together, Navy sailors and officers will require more than 3,200 housing units, the report found.

But local real-estate experts fault that study for using a statistical model that included higher-rent cities such as Seattle and Bellevue. Those communities skewed the study, making the entire region seem more expensive, they say.

Home-port-based officers and enlisted personnel will be eligible to live in the Navy's military family housing units at Paine Field, Brier, Fort Lawton and Seattle's nearby Magnolia neighborhood. However, most of that housing was built in the 1950s, and there are only 190 units total.

The only housing at the home port will be several barracks, not yet built, which will house up to 460 bachelor sailors.

Since most Navy families won't be coming for another year or two, few housing developments aimed at that market have been built.

But area builders and developers say the market will eventually catch up and that the bulk of the new population will probably settle north and east of Lynnwood, especially in the Marysville-Smokey Point-Arlington corridor, as well as in Skagit County and on Camano Island. Those areas have lower housing costs and more room for growth.

Base-closing hearings to resume

The issue of housing plays a big role in the future of the home port. Last year, the federal Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission hammered Everett officials about the region's lack of housing. But the commission narrowly voted to close the Alameda Naval Air Station in California rather than halt construction in Everett.

The commission meets again next year and although it is clear the Navy wants to keep Everett open, the commission operates independently of the military and doesn't always follow its recommendations.

Hank Robinette, a local developer and five-state regional president of the Navy League, says the impression of a housing shortage is a false one and must be repaired.

"We have to make sure the Navy is comfortable and the base-closure commission is given good data that doesn't reflect negatively," he says.

Dick Bennett, a retired Navy captain and president of the Everett Area Chamber of Commerce, says, "The housing industry is going to mobilize very quickly around the need to meet the requirements that the Navy people will have."

Several single-family-home developments now under construction in the Smokey Point area are affordable by Navy standards.

Of nine new home ports announced during Ronald Reagan's administration, only Naval Station Everett is receiving a battle group. A new home port on Staten Island is closing this week; bases in Pensacola, Fla., and Pascagoula, Miss., are "receiver sites" for people and equipment displaced by other base closures, and a new base near Corpus Christi, Texas, berths only minesweepers.

The new home ports were conceived in a different era, when defense budgets were increasing and the Navy was working toward a goal of 600 ships. As a defensive strategy, the Navy planned to disperse its forces and ships among more ports. Now the Soviet Union and Berlin Wall are gone, and the Navy plans to maintain a fleet of 330 ships.

Local boosters are confident Everett's luck will hold.

"You go on that base, and you see how big and beautiful it is, and they've already said the Lincoln is going to be there in '96," Reid Shockey, an Everett land-use consultant, said.

"After all is said and done, I think the Pentagon will get its way as far as how many ships it's going to have," he said. "If that level is maintained, then the Everett Navy home port simply has to be part of the equation."

----------------------------------- HOME PORT SURVIVES CHALLENGES, CUTS ----------------------------------- -- April 17, 1984: The Navy selects Everett as its preferred site for a Puget Sound base for at least 13 ships.

-- January 1986: $17.6 million to acquire land for the base survives Gramm-Rudman budget cuts.

-- Feb. 21, 1986: A General Accounting Office report says ships could be docked more cheaply elsewhere, but Navy convinces Congress a home port is needed.

-- Oct. 2, 1986: Congress appropriates $43.5 million more to begin dredging and preparing the site for the Everett base. But this is less than half what the Navy requested for fiscal 1987, and Congress says it cannot be spent until state environmental permits are obtained and the Legislature provides money for access roads, schools and social services.

-- July 1, 1987: The aircraft carrier Nimitz arrives, after a round-the-world voyage, to be based at Bremerton until completion of the Everett base.

-- Sept. 24, 1987: The Army Corps of Engineers says it will issue the Navy a dredging permit for the home-port project despite protests from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services.

-- Nov. 9, 1987: Ceremonial groundbreaking.

-- Feb. 18, 1988: Everett base is not included among projects facing significant cuts in new Reagan-administration defense budget.

-- March 7, 1988: A federal appeals court blocks work on the port, saying the Navy violated federal and state law by starting to build before the appeal of a state shorelines permit is decided.

-- April 25, 1988: The Senate Armed Service Committee votes to eliminate all money for the home port from the 1989 defense budget, saying money should await resolution of environmental challenges.

-- Sept. 5, 1989: After more than five years of study, the Navy receives its environmental permit to build pier.

-- March 23, 1990: Defense Secretary Richard Cheney calls military construction freeze but gives waiver for Everett.

-- May 1, 1990: Cheney's list of 207 military installations for possible closure includes four new home ports, but not Everett.

-- May 3, 1991: Facing a smaller post-Cold War military, Everett fleet is reduced from 13 to seven.

-- June 7, 1991: The first Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission votes to not close Everett.

-- May 21, 1993: The second Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission places the Everett port on a list of potential base closures.

-- June 25, 1993: The commission votes to close Alameda Naval Air Station and two new home ports but proceed with Everett.

-- Jan. 10, 1994: Navy announces USS Ingraham and USS Ford will be based in Everett.

-- April 8, 1994: Formal dedication for home port.

-- July 27, 1994: Navy announces the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln will be based in Everett.

-- Sept. 3, 1994: USS Ingraham and USS Ford to arrive in Everett.