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Federal Way revisits performing arts center project

The former Toys R Us site on 20th Avenue South, near the Federal Way Transit Center, is slated to be the future home of a performing arts and conference center (PACC). - File photo
The former Toys R Us site on 20th Avenue South, near the Federal Way Transit Center, is slated to be the future home of a performing arts and conference center (PACC).
— image credit: File photo

The Federal Way City Council reviewed a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) draft to be sent across the nation for the future performing arts and conference center (PACC) project that first began moving in 2008.

During an April 3 special meeting, Patrick Doherty, director of economic development for the city, briefed the council on where things stand with the PACC. Doherty also briefly touched on the Crystal Palace project proposed last year for an adjacent site.

Doherty reviewed the history of the project, touching on some of the major developments, including the 2010 purchase of the former Toys R Us property in the city's downtown core, the would-be home for the PACC.

"The city purchased that site in December of 2010, with a $5 million state grant on the condition that the PACC is constructed within ten years, or the money will need to be returned with interest," Doherty said.

Since the ball began rolling in 2008, Doherty said the city conferred with LMN Architects to begin with, and had them develop some cost estimates for the PACC last year.

The price range for the project through LMN would vary between $44.5 million to $50 million, a cost estimate that caused the city to take a pause and review its options.

"We thanked them for their work, and started to think about what to do with that information," Doherty said.

Doherty said the city then went back to a "runner up" when it sent out a call for architects for the project, and opened up communication with Westlake Architects. Westlake Architects had recently designed a similar facility in Lone Tree, Colo., for approximately $23 million, Doherty said.

"We became quite interested in the notion that a different firm with a different perspective on cost might be able to bring a different perspective to us," Doherty said. "So that was encouraging information."

Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell noted the drastic difference in costs, and wondered what the driving factor was behind the discrepancy.

"Have you looked at the proposals and figured out why there's such a drastic difference between those two numbers?" Ferrell asked.

Doherty said in the world of architecture, there's almost a "brand name" system. Some firms' costs tend to be higher simply because of who they are and who they work with, while the lesser-tier firms do work just as good, but don't charge nearly as much for the "bread and butter" projects they work on.

Using Westlake's price points from the Lone Tree project, the facility the city envisions would cost somewhere between $23 million to $29 million. Doherty said the city looked at funding options, and indicated the city could pick up approximately $21 million of the tab if it pulled from a variety of resources.

However, Doherty said, much of the funds available through the city have specific uses and/or restrictions, such as the Real Estate Excise Tax. Because of this, Doherty said his staff and the mayor have begun looking at a public-private partnership model to get the PACC designed and built.

"The project, then, in total could consist of the PACC idea as well as the hotel/restaurant/catering facility to be provided by the (private) developer," Doherty said. "The city could discuss contributions of its assets…and then the private partner could construct the necessary restaurant/hotel/catering, but also some portion of the PACC structure itself, for example the shell."

Doherty also shared a timeframe for the RFQ for the performing arts center, saying that the city hopes to review responses and have a recommendation to the council by late June or early July.

Crystal Palace project

Doherty also gave a brief update to the council about the Crystal Palace project (also referred to as Crystal Way), proposed by ARCADD Inc.

The city and ARCADD are in continuous contact, Doherty said, and things remain positive.

"They continue to express their strong optimism about the project, from their side, and the financing for it," he said. "Their intention, they state, is to return with earnest money in hand and a new purchase and sale agreement."

Mayor Skip Priest touched on a conversation he had with Dr. Hisham Ashkouri earlier that day. Ashkouri is the lead architect at ARCADD, and has traveled to Federal Way from his Newton, Mass., office a couple of times already to try and make this project a reality.

"I spoke to Hisham Ashkouri. He remains very positive about this project, but at the same time, it's a complicated $300 million project…These types of projects are difficult to put together, and I remain optimistic, and certainly very positive about Hisham's work on this," Priest said. "He has spent almost $500,000 on this and another project in anticipation of it going forward."

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