2021 Awardee – Lake Stevens Downtown Subarea Plan
Lake Stevens is respecting its past, even as it builds for the future. That was part of former mayor John Spencer’s vision from his first day in office.
“We had the vision to build a town center, and fortunately for us, we already knew where the town center was going to be,” Spencer said. “We had our consultant give us a basic plan, but the big question was what we should do now. I think the answer to that lies in a very simple phrase. Just get started.”
When Spencer became mayor in 2015, the area around City Hall was in decline and the lake and adjacent North Cove Park weren’t visible from the street. The historic lumber town and resort community had faced the challenges of meeting residents’ needs as the rapid growth — from 8,000 people in 2008 to 39,000 people today — affected all aspects of life on the lake.
Beginning in 2016, the city implemented the multi-phase Downtown Lake Stevens Subarea Plan. That meant bringing the city center back to life and reconnecting the community to the park and lake, as well as its historic lumber mill roots.
The first phases of the downtown subarea plan removed a massive berm near City Hall to open the view to the lake and North Cove Park, and provide access to a new pavilion. The previously invisible park was updated with new restrooms and an ADA-compliant playground with AstroTurf for year-round use.
On Main Street, The Mill was resurrected. Planned and constructed in the same footprint as the old lumber mill in the same location, the new mill building was a labor of love for city council members, staff and community partners. It houses the Council Chambers and an event space, and has numerous special touches honoring history, the natural environment, and the talents of local artists and city staff.
Since those first projects, there has been continuity in city leadership with the shared goal of creating a meaningful project to benefit residents and stimulate economic growth.
“From an administrative perspective, you don’t get opportunities in your career to be part of a project like this,” said Community Development Director Russ Wright. “It’s just a really incredible thing. I get very emotional thinking about this project.”
The improvements made to the downtown core are spreading. Businesses and new home construction have taken cues from The Mill, including the same aesthetics in their designs. The momentum, collaboration and community support that led the downtown project is already realizing an increase in business revenue and families enjoying North Cove Park. It’s also led to more community during special events, including the Wednesday Farmers Markets.
It means people love the community, and new generations plan to come back home.
“The future’s great for Lake Stevens,” Mayor Brett Gailey said. Gailey succeeded Spencer in 2020. “Things are growing. We’ve got a quarter of our population under the age of 20, which is daunting. So you think ‘Okay, what do we need to do as a city to make sure these kids are active and learning and getting those experiences that they need as they grow? To want to come back to this community?’ All my kids want to come back to this community and there’s a reason for that. Because it’s a great little community and there’re great people here.”