City to buy ‘old Shell station’ for downtown pocket park

ARLINGTON – The city has agreed to buy the “old Shell station,” giving a long-ago shuttered business a second life as a mini-park.

The City Council on Monday authorized the mayor to sign a purchase and sale agreement with the Howell family for $250,000 to buy their corner lot at 4th Street and Olympic Avenue.

Planned improvements would include ADA-accessible public restrooms, outdoor seating, interactive paving, flower planter boxes, landscaping and bicycle parking on the west side that would be available to Centennial Trail users.

The new facility would be named Howell Memorial Park in tribute to the past as the city grows toward the future. Jim Howell, car show buff and Ford collector who owned the gas station until it closed, died last April.

The building makeover would add colorful repainting and design features to maintain a vintage service station look and feel, city official said. “We’ve been talking about a pocket park for the last couple of years, and this would be a good location for it, without disrupting existing parking for the rest of the downtown area,” City Administrator Paul Ellis said.

In its heyday, the circa-1948 building served as a busy gas station and auto repair shop, until the late 1980s when it became a dormant, blighted main street property. Because of the drive-through aspects of the property, ample room exists around the building, Ellis said.

Once the building is renovated, the park could become more than just a place to relax and recreate; it also could become a place to innovate.

While still in the conceptual stage, Mayor Barb Tolbert said the building could be leased to a business incubator organization, serve as a start-up facility, or develop as the “makers space” that the city has long touted as an important venue to encourage entrepreneur and inventor education.

Tolbert said the project fits within the city’s goals of the North Stillaguamish Valley Economic Redevelopment Plan as a place making and rural innovation project. The ideas were prominent components of the America’s Best Communities competition for which the Arlington-Darrington area was a finalist earlier this year.

City leaders are talking with Diane Kamionka, interim executive director with the NW Innovation Resource Center, a nonprofit that has been working with Arlington and developing a maker space locally.

Not everyone was sold on the Shell station purchase.

Mike Britt, owner of Britt Sport Cards downtown, said he opposes the plan when there are other surface maintenance and aesthetic needs that require attention downtown.

“For years, I’ve been complaining about the merchant parking lot needing to get paved, and you keep coming back saying, ‘We don’t have the money to do that,’” said Britt, past president of the Downtown Arlington Business Association. “But suddenly you have the money to purchase this property. I think it’s a bogus idea.”

He said the better option would be to find another buyer or merchant on the open market to buy the property for commercial use, and generate tax revenue that could be used to help fix roads and repair parking lots downtown.

Ellis said the purchase will ultimately be funded through the surplus sale of other city properties. He added that the agreement contains provisions while the city conducts due diligence on the property and environmental inspections before the sale closes.

“I feel like this is an important investment in the future of our city and our historic downtown,” she said. “I think it will be a benefit to the culture of our downtown, our historic area, so I’m just really thrilled to see the city thinking forward this way,” Debora Nelson said.

The old Shell station would be turned into a new pocket park that would look like this.

The old Shell station would be turned into a new pocket park that would look like this.

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