Downtown development: Whose vision will shape vacant property in Federal Way?

With its sights set on a mix of parks, housing and retail businesses, the city is exploring options for a vacant downtown property following a failed proposal for three skyscrapers.

The Federal Way City Council will take an additional three weeks to discuss its vision for the former AMC Theatres site before soliciting development concepts. Developers’ visions for the 4.1-acre property at 31600 20th Ave. S. will be sought through a request for qualifications (RFQ) process.

A RFQ was on the city council’s consent agenda for approval Tuesday and was due to be issued March 21. After a long discussion among council members about what kind of development and public space will be the right fit for Federal Way at the downtown parcel, the council voted 4 to 3 to hold an April 5 study session and postpone issuing the RFQ until after that date.

Mayor Skip Priest reminded city council members, prior to the vote, that Federal Way has struggled for more than a decade to redevelop its downtown. A RFQ that includes restrictive language, such as specifying how large public space must be or what design elements must be included in that space, will limit developers’ creativity and likely attract fewer respondents, he said.

Priest urged the council to remain flexible and open-minded in an effort to attract developers.

“I hope as you decide on this decision to table there is a sense of realism,” Priest said.

Council members Jim Ferrell, Linda Kochmar, Roger Freeman and Deputy Mayor Dini Duclos voted in favor of holding the study session. Council members Jack Dovey, Mike Park and Jeanne Burbidge voted against the measure.

“I would like to have just a little more discussion,” Duclos said. “I really think we should talk more and listen to more of the citizens.”

Citizen input

Public comments during a special session preceded the council’s regularly scheduled meeting.

About 15 people attended. A few residents spoke out against strikingly tall skyscrapers that were proposed by Twin Development, the last developer with which the city held a contract for the site. Twin Development planned to construct two 45-story towers and a 35-story tower.

“Those big tall buildings, no, that isn’t for Federal Way,” resident Nancy Combs said.

Others expressed a desire for open space, greenery and a project brimming with attractive aesthetics. Resident Clara McArthur requested that trees, grass, flowers and a gathering place for the community be included in the council’s latest attempt to develop the site.

“I suspect you already know what’s going to be there and it’s set in stone,” McArthur said. “I hope I’m wrong.”

Resident Barbara Reid said Federal Way lacks charm. She hopes that whatever is built on the former AMC Theatres site will add a degree of charm to Federal Way.

“I think the people are hungry for architectural charm,” Reid said. “I’ve had my fill of gray boxes and I hope to see no more of them in Federal Way.”

Council indecision

The council, for the most part, still appears to desire a mixed-use project.

But the vision of such a project is different among council members. Councilman Jim Ferrell would like to see a large park, possibly one that occupies the entire 4-acre property. At the very least, he’d like to avoid massive residential space on the property.

Councilman Mike Park said residential space is much-needed. Years ago, the council decided that in response to stipulations placed on the city through the state’s Growth Management Act, Federal Way will add density downtown rather than in the neighborhoods. Other council members said retail and more ways to generate money are essential to avoid relying too much on residents’ property taxes as a source of revenue for providing services.

“Whatever we do, we better all be on the same page or this is going to be a mess,” Councilman Jack Dovey said.

Study session

The April 5 study session is an opportunity for the city council to collectively create a vision for the property. The session will feature a packed agenda. The council will discuss:

• The language of the RFQ city staff had planned to issue this month

• A study completed about four years ago regarding lifestyle retail on the site

• Design guidelines and costs of several attractive parks in the Puget Sound area and nationally

• How economic development on the site could impact the mall’s ability to attract tenants

• Development proposals that were submitted the last time the city went through a request for qualifications and a request for proposals (RFP) process four years ago, when it initially took on the task of finding a developer to construct a mixed-use project on the property.

The study session begins at 5:30 p.m. April 5 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S., in council chambers. It will be open to the public. Councilman Mike Park will not attend due to a prior engagement. The city council’s regularly scheduled 7 p.m. meeting will follow at the same location. Public comments will be accepted there.

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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