New Park, Floodwall Help Turn Around City’s Downtown

Memories of Mount Vernon typically revolve around its eye-catching tulip fields and the river that divides the city in half. Perhaps the most memorable image for many visitors is the 90-foot-high tulip tower that borders Interstate 5.

Eight years ago, a handful of passionate civic leaders envisioned downtown Mount Vernon as a go-to community. At the time, Mount Vernon’s high unemployment, vacant buildings, flood threats, and crime tarnished the city’s otherwise friendly reputation.

Today, there’s more blossoming than the annual tulips. A new Skagit Riverwalk Park spans a quarter of a mile alongside the Skagit River, with a Tulip Dance Sculpture and a permanent downtown floodwall that is helping turn the tide on Mount Vernon’s history of flooded streets. The city features a farmers market on Saturdays through October, and weekly concerts in the summer. On nearby First Street, local history dovetails with modern lifestyles.

The old-school quilt shop, Calico Creations, and the Lincoln Theater and other perennials remain, while new businesses such as the Perry and Carlson Gallery, Shambala Bakery & Bistro Restaurant, Valley Shine Distillery, Forte Artisan Chocolates, Ryann Michele clothing boutique and 15 other new businesses contribute to a vibrant downtown core. Visitors and residents alike can spend the day shopping, checking out the day spas or grabbing a bite to eat.

Located along the I-5 corridor between Seattle and Vancouver, Mount Vernon (population 31,104) was settled in the late 1800s and became the county seat of Skagit County. The city is perhaps best known for its vast swaths of tulips and daffodils that draw thousands of visitors to a festival each April. It boasts renovated historic buildings such as the award-winning Polson Building at 419 S. First St., which houses several businesses. The city also has alleyways strewn with murals, including “From These Waters” with diverse images of tulip fields and famous immigrants (420 S. First St.).

Foodies will find a plethora of watering holes and eateries that appeal to discriminating taste buds.

Mayor Jill Boudreau, along with the Mount Vernon Downtown Association, city planners, the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce, and entrepreneurs, deserve much of the credit for transforming this quaint farming community into a city where people live, work and play.

This includes artist Trina Perry and architect-artist Christian Carlson, partners who bought and transformed the Brunet Building into an art gallery, retail shop and an upstairs living space. The couple has set up their home and business on First Street while also diving into community development.

“The improvements that the city has made to the Riverwalk and the new flood wall brought about new investment and businesses in the historic downtown. The farmers market is vibrant and the Skagit Valley, which is on many people’s radar, is seeing a lot of growth,” says Perry.

Under Boudreau, the city attracted designers and entrepre-neurs who share the vision presented in the city’s master plan drawn up in 2006. And there’s still more to come, according to the mayor, such as 200 to 300 homes, a new hotel and the redevelopment of the area south of Kincaid Street.

Longtime downtown businesses are also part of the upgrade. The Skagit Valley Food Co-op bought C-Square building and transformed it into a café and marketplace. Owners of Tri-Dee Arts renovated their art supply and gift store across the street to include classrooms and a family-friendly glazing shop.

Nicole Vander Meulen, marketing director at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op, praises the revitalization effort.

“The Riverwalk is a beautiful addition to downtown. It creates a venue for important community events like the local farmers market and summer concert series, making downtown more inviting and lively for locals and visitors alike. The Riverwalk also creates an up-close viewing spectacle to the lifeblood to our beautiful Valley: The Magic Skagit.”

For more content like this, check out this article on the growth of Bellingham here.

"A new Skagit Riverwalk Park spans a quarter of a mile alongside the Skagit River, with a Tulip Dance Sculpture and a permanent downtown floodwall that is helping turn the tide on Mount Vernon’s history of flooded streets."