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Federal Way's high-rise deal dies

Artistic rendition of the proposed towers by Twin Development. - Courtesy image
Artistic rendition of the proposed towers by Twin Development.
— image credit: Courtesy image

Federal Way’s contract with Twin Development to build a high-rise project at the former downtown AMC Theatres site has dissolved.

City staff made the announcement on Tuesday, after more than three years and seven extensions of a purchase and sale agreement. (See timeline at bottom of story.)

The contract was dissolved and the council was notified after Twin Development failed to pay the $100,000 it owed the city. In September, the developer requested, and the city council awarded, an extension on the purchase and sale agreement. Twin Development needed more time to gather the $6.1 million required to buy the property. In exchange for the extension, Twin Development agreed to deposit $100,000 into an escrow fund by Jan. 31. The purchase and sale agreement was contingent on the payment. Twin Development was expected to close by March 31 on the 4.1-acre property at 31600 20th Ave. S.

The city-owned land was designated as the future location of a mixed-use project featuring residential, retail, hotel, parking and park space. Twin Development’s $350 million project proposed a 35-story high rise, two 45-story towers and a public park. Partners Pom Kwak, Steve Smith and Luke Hwang comprised the Twin Development team.

Councilwoman Jeanne Burbidge said Twin Development gave no indication it would be unable to make the payment. The developer assured the council, at the start of the year, it was making progress in finding funding.

“It sounded as though they were moving forward,” Burbidge said.

Council members had varying opinions on the news Tuesday. Not all city council members were keen on Twin Development’s proposed project. Councilman Jim Ferrell viewed the announcement with optimism.

“On the one hand there’s disappointment the contract didn’t go through,” Ferrell said. “On the other hand, there’s an opportunity. I do think this is an opportunity for us to hit the restart button.”

Next steps

The council has not had an opportunity to discuss future plans for the property, Burbidge said. Mayor Skip Priest said the land is a critical piece of property in Federal Way’s downtown. Priest and the council feel development on the former AMC Theatres site would be a much-needed jump-start to revitalizing downtown. It’s essential to move quickly to identify what will take place there, Priest said.

That process could include several measures. The city could issue a request for proposals, said Patrick Doherty, economic and community development director. Ferrell said a visionary process is needed.

“I know we’re going to move forward as a city,” Councilwoman Linda Kochmar said. “I don’t know how we’ll move forward.”

Discussion points

Building height, public space and funding models are bound to be topics of debate among city leaders. Some council members are hesitant to construct skyscrapers. Ferrell has opposed the idea from the time Twin Development introduced it. Councilman Roger Freeman, in past discussions, has shown concern as well. Kochmar, on Tuesday, said she has reservations about welcoming towering buildings into the city’s downtown. Members of the public have also resisted the idea.

“Going that vertical, in my opinion, just didn’t make sense,” Ferrell said.

The council and mayor all agree the site should include public space. How this will be incorporated into a future project remains unknown. Ferrell wishes to see a public park as the property’s main feature. But retail is also needed to boost sales tax revenues. Using the property to create a focal point and something that illustrates connectivity between Steel Lake Park and Celebration Park is important, Priest said. The goal is to create synergy and a vibrant place that encourages involvement from the public and businesses, Ferrell said.

Another topic of interest to the city council is downtown Federal Way’s federal designation as a “regional center.” The designation, associated with the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, grants a two-year permanent residency status to foreigners who invest a minimum of $500,000 into Federal Way’s downtown. Twin Development counted on the designation and its authority to promote the program to attract foreign investors as well as the money to purchase and construct its project.

Whatever the future of the property, the city council and mayor are still interested in using it to propel economic development downtown. The transformation of the property must be done in a way that is affordable and realistic, Priest said.

“When we create dreams, they have to be based on reality,” he said.

Timeline of potential projects for Federal Way's 4.1-acre AMC site

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