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Federal Way seeks developers for vacant downtown site after skyscraper deal fizzles

Federal Way will again solicit developers for the former AMC Theatres downtown property.

During a special meeting Tuesday, the city council unanimously voted on a timeline by which to proceed with identifying, for the second time in four years, a developer for the 4.1-acre site, located at 31600 20th Ave. S.

The city was previously working with Seattle-based Twin Development, which planned three skyscrapers (one at 35 stories and two at 45 stories) for the site. The purchase and sale agreement with the company lapsed in January when Twin Development failed to make a $100,000 interest payment to the city. The city council hopes to select a new development team by August. A request for qualifications (RFQ) and a request for proposals (RFP) will be issued.

Project components

Leaders are still pursuing a mixed-use project. Components will include residential, commercial, retail, office and public space. The project must be pedestrian friendly and supportive of transit. Aesthetically pleasing building facades and a potential mix of building heights are desired. A park, plaza or other public space is essential.

The city will not, at least initially, stifle potential developers’ creativity by restricting building heights or setting requirements for the open space component.

“I’d like to keep it as open as possible to see what comes in to us,” deputy mayor Dini Duclos said.

Mayor Skip Priest and other members of the council agreed.

Council members Linda Kochmar and Roger Freeman were outnumbered in their preference to set height limits. Twin Development’s towering skyscraper idea did not go over well with some members of the public. Kochmar said in January that she did not want to see buildings as tall as those proposed by Twin Development as part of future proposals for the site. Freeman said Tuesday that he desires lower profile buildings.

“Coming through afresh, I’d prefer we take out that high rise,” Freeman said.

Choosing a developer

Steps to identify a developer begin immediately. On March 15, the city council and mayor will review a draft request for qualifications. The RFQ will give city leaders an idea of what development companies are interested in the site. It will also help leaders gauge each company’s preliminary vision for the site. The RFQ will be issued March 21. Responses are due May 2.

By late May, the council plans to issue a request for proposals (RFP). The RFP will be extended to the top three respondents to the RFQ. RFP responses are due July 8. The proposals are intended to give city leaders more insight on the respondents’ envisioned project, including preliminary design details, projected costs and a plan for financing the purchase of the land and construction of the mixed-use center and open space.

The public will get a handful of opportunities between March and August to weigh in on the whole process. On March 15, the city council will hold a public meeting where comments will be heard. A July 26 meeting is tentatively scheduled for the public to view presentations from the RFP respondents and to issue comment. Public comment will also be taken Aug. 2. The timeline is subject to change and the council could choose to include more comment opportunities at a future date.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Federal Way resident Nancy Combs urged the city council and mayor to give the public ample say in what is constructed downtown. Combs complained that hardly anybody was aware that the council was holding a special meeting about the future of the site.

“Let the people of Federal Way have some say in what you’re going to do with our money,” she said.

Final selection

In August, the council will select the winning development team. The city will then proceed with drafting a purchase and sale agreement with the developer and working closely with the team to design the final project. Kochmar said she didn’t imagine getting a lot of bidders, given the economic climate.

Patrick Doherty, economic and community development director, is optimistic. Doherty said he began receiving phone calls from potentially interested developers once it became known that Twin Development would not be developing the site.

Did you know?

The city purchased the former AMC Theatres site in January 2007 with the purpose of redeveloping it. In July 2007, the city council chose Canadian developer United Properties to construct a mixed-use, four-tower project with a 1-acre park at its center. In May 2010, United Properties, which was unable to secure financing to purchase the site, handed the contract over to Seattle-based Twin Development with the city council’s approval.

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