Business

Fewer commercial developers than hoped share downtown thoughts with council

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Last month, several local and regional developers were invited to a meeting of the Federal Way City Council’s Finance, Economic Development and Regional Affairs Committee for a conversation about redevelopment efforts in the city center core. Only four people showed up.

Though attendance was sparser than hoped, Patrick Doherty, the city’s economic development director, said officials received valuable information from those who were there.

John Caulfield, chairman of Federal Way’s Planning Commission and the deputy city manager of University Place, which is undergoing its own redevelopment efforts, was there.

So was James Yoder, vice president of Newport Beach, Calif.-based Steadfast Companies, which purchased The Commons at Federal Way. Gary Martindale, the mall’s general manager, also attended.

Seattle developer Bruce Lorig joined the group late after making his way through rush-hour traffic.

“After how hard it was to get here, I don’t know if you want more development,” Lorig joked.

During the meeting, the group agreed that the vision city officials want to achieve probably wouldn’t happen without the effort the city is putting into it. But most also said the city has done about all it can without owning property downtown.

“You need a developer who makes it happen,” Lorig said. “I’m not sure there’s a lot you can do to make it happen. It’s just minor inconveniences, like (the permit process). The difficulty is getting tenants. The market has to want it.”

Doherty said he’s concerned about taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I see so many communities around us that are in our market and that shape our market,” he said. “My concern is we could be perceived as the only community to not do anything.”

Yoder said the city already has done some good things.

“One of the things that attracted us here was the city taking the step to do infrastructure improvements,” he said. “We don’t see so much of that in California.”

He encouraged city officials to pick an area for targeted redevelopment and “be proactive. Incentivize, encourage, and be careful about restrictions. They cut both ways.”

As an example, he cited the city’s recent efforts to limit the growth and expansion of big-box retail in the city center. He noted some of the most successful businesses in Federal Way are such retailers — Target, Best Buy and Home Depot, for example — and he said those companies will leave if they can’t expand here.

Parking is another issue that will affect development downtown, and Lorig noted it will be an issue for any developer who might consider locating in Federal Way. He said until land prices — which are passed along as rent to future tenants — catch up with the cost to build structured parking, the city might just have to wait.

“Rent needs to be high enough for developers to afford parking,” Yoder said. “To get going, you need to do one of two things: subsidize, and back off oppressive parking requirements.

“You’ve got to do something. “There’s not a lot of land downtown. It’s very hard to get away from on-grade parking. It’s so cheap. Creating more land means building parking up.”

As far as achieving vibrant, exciting redevelopment, Yoder said his company and the mall’s management team have considered adding a lifestyle tail or wing to The Commons’ existing mall property.

But Yoder noted that right now, the operators are just focusing on getting the mall stabilized. It’s been under its own redevelopment since Steadfast bought it in 2003.

Other downtown issues are “not on the radar right now,” he said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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