Lynnwood's acres of strip malls and parking lots — the essence of its late-20th-century identity — probably are safe for another...

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Lynnwood’s acres of strip malls and parking lots — the essence of its late-20th-century identity — probably are safe for another year.

But city leaders and development gurus are lighting sparks for a transformation of the sprawling commercial district, centered south of 196th Street Southwest. By year’s end, the first two privately funded projects — a Hilton hotel on the Lynnwood Convention Center property and an adjacent mixed-use development — could be ready for groundbreaking.

Nearly two years ago, the Lynnwood City Council committed to a 20-year redevelopment course intended to transform the city into the region’s next Bellevue, with 350-foot office towers, a radically expanded street grid, new parks and a winding pedestrian promenade to connect downtown with the Alderwood mall.

While some developers have expressed disappointment with the city’s cautious timetable, combined with several procedural delays, this year is expected to be pivotal.

The city’s 2006 budget included $575,000 in seed money to design streets and parks, study a proposed local tax district and analyze market trends. Those studies are expected to be finished by spring.

And by summer, the City Council is to take on a big-picture plan, creating a timetable and financing strategy for seven new streets, four parks and upgraded utilities, together estimated to cost $112 million to $125 million.

The council already has adopted a formal zoning map that allows towers up to 350 feet tall around a future Town Square south of 198th Street.

The “wedding cake” plan divides a 300-acre City Center into three sections, with the tallest towers in the middle and shorter buildings, up to 140 feet tall, allowed in areas west of 44th Street West and northeast of the convention center.

Two deals are in the works for major projects on 196th, west of Interstate 5.

A Spokane group, kVc Development, is negotiating with the Lynnwood Public Facilities District (PFD) to build a 200-room Hilton Garden Inn next to the convention center.

The hotel would replace Guaymas Mexican Restaurant and a former veterinary clinic, said Grant Dull, the PFD’s executive director.

Mastro Properties, a Seattle development group, is buying a 5-acre site just west of the planned hotel. That property is best known for its former Cadillac dealership.

Mike Mastro said the sale was expected to close by Friday, and the site could be developed with commercial space, offices and apartments.

Another prime site, 4 acres across 196th from the convention center, also will be marketed this year for redevelopment. The Edmonds School District last year nearly sold it to the Inland Group of Spokane, which planned to develop it with a Hilton and apartments.

But that deal collapsed when kVc, which was part of the project, pulled out to pursue the PFD site.

Rather than sell the land, the school district now intends to seek long-term lease proposals from prospective developers, said Marla Miller, business and operations director. The School Board could select a project this summer, she said.

A park and related streets probably will be among the city’s first investments.

The top contender is Town Square, to be bordered by three future streets — 199th Street Southwest and 42nd and 43rd avenues west. The other leading choice is Village Green, a large park to be bordered on the east by the future 45th Avenue West, at a future extension of 198th.

Alternative designs for all four new parks were displayed at an Oct. 24 public workshop, where residents picked their favorites. Now the city’s consultant, Berger Partnership, is working on designs favored by the majority of workshop participants.

Town Square, for instance, is to incorporate a central circular design, with lawns, gardens and plazas radiating from a water feature such as a fountain. That site now is occupied by the Just Left Pub & Grill sports bar and a cluster of two-story office buildings.

Village Green would displace a large strip mall anchored by Sports Authority and CompUSA; 45th and a new stretch of 198th would cut into the mall’s huge parking lot. The design chosen at the workshop includes a plaza, children’s play areas and a spacious “great lawn.”

The other two parks would be smaller.

Icon Park, just northeast of the convention center, might include a climbing wall, a “field billiards” court and an elevated cable zip line for adults. The grassy billiards court — invented for this park by Berger’s landscape architects — would include “pockets” at the corners and two sides, for uses that would be up to people’s imaginations.

Civic Park, where Discount Tire now sits at 44th and 194th, is designed with grassy areas and a skateboard bowl.

Lynn Sordel, the city’s new parks director, also wants to create a trailhead for the Interurban Trail, which runs along City Center’s eastern boundary.

His last job was in Orange County, Fla., where a rail line passing through several cities was converted into the 19-mile West Orange Trail. The resulting economic and redevelopment impacts were huge, he said.

He envisions vendors renting bikes and roller skates to trail users in a departure from Lynnwood’s car-centered civic history.

“When I heard about this and saw all the parallels, I got excited,” he said. “This is like, wow, what an opportunity for us to transform Lynnwood.”

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or