Companies compete to build arts center in Federal Way

The proposed performing arts and conference center would be built at the former Toys R Us site on 20th Avenue South near the Federal Way Transit Center. - Mirror file photo
The proposed performing arts and conference center would be built at the former Toys R Us site on 20th Avenue South near the Federal Way Transit Center.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

Two companies presented competing visions for a possible performing arts and conference center in downtown Federal Way.

ARCADD Inc. of Newton, Mass., and Lorax Partners of Seattle responded to the city's Request for Qualifications.

They shared their visions for downtown Federal Way with the city council in a special meeting Sept. 18.

Dr. Hisham Ashkouri of ARCADD shared yet another bold vision, one that would compliment the proposed Crystal Way project his firm has potentially planned at an adjacent downtown site on 20th Avenue South. The ARCADD proposal would focus heavily on creating a true "cultural" center for the city.

P.J. Santos of Lorax Partners offered a different approach, saying his firm would look at the downtown as a blank slate to be filled by the council and the residents of Federal Way, and offered examples of his firm's success with downtown revitalization projects in the region.


Ashkouri, who flew in from the Boston area to give his presentation, outlined his vision for the performing arts and conference center (PACC).

"The program is very simple. We're talking about 750 seats. The reason we chose a 750-seat auditorium is very simple. It's because we're going to develop a modular auditorium," he said. "One of the concerns we have is that if you have a large auditorium, and it's empty, that's a lost revenue. But if you divide it into some components of 150 seats each…it gives you flexibility."

Ashkouri's vision would include an amphitheater with a stage. But not just any kind of stage, Ashkouri indicated.

"The outdoor stage, is going to be made of glass. I want that to be for the children of the city. A lot of children love to see how things work, and if you give them a stage that's made of glass, they can see the pulleys and ropes, all the systems that are used to make the stage setting," he said. "But at the same time, you can completely cover it and just let people focus on the performance."

Outside of the performing arts, Ashkouri said he would like to integrate elements that would allow people to work in the visual arts, the culinary arts and so on.

Other properties that the city is holding onto, but are not directly related to the PACC project, could be used toward the creation of an academy for the arts and technology, Ashkouri said.

Another part of the project would be a hotel, which Ashkouri also addressed.

"I have talked about it with our investors, and we're talking about a four-star hotel, not a three-star hotel," he said. "We've raised the number of rooms to make it profitable, to about 250 rooms…If you build Crystal Way across the street, which is really more of a five-star building, you'll want to have quality comparable to that. It's critical that the hotel be a well-built, well-designed, high quality hotel."

Lorax Partners

P.J. Santos, co-founder of Lorax Partners, was not as detailed in his specifics for any particular design for the PACC.

He focused on thinking of the downtown area as a "blank slate" and also cited his firm's experience in the region, especially in revitalizing downtown Bremerton over the past decade.

"Why is it a blank slate?" Santos asked the council, referencing his PowerPoint presentation. "This is about creating a vision, a reliable, executable vision that we believe can happen now. And that vision is not done by us, in a closet, and us saying 'Here it is.' We strongly believe it's us, in partnership with the city, putting those elements together to come up with this future vision. It's not about the architecture, it's really about being partners."

Santos described how his firm approached downtown Bremerton in 2002.

"There was a downtown fabric that had nothing. And what happened is the malls in Silverdale sucked the energy away. We had negative growth in Bremerton for decades. There was not a new building for 20 years. That is just death," he said. "This was a place where every developer was saying 'What are you thinking? This is a no-mans land'."

Lorax Partners and Santos instead saw an opportunity, centering development on two "anchors," Anthony's Restaurant and Bremerton City Hall. Once Santos and Lorax took the risk, others followed, he said.

"It wasn't just one developer," Santos said. "There's about 15 different projects that have happened in downtown Bremerton since. These are the steps which you have to take, with these original anchors in the north and the south, and the investment from the city which led to the future."

PACC timeline/AMC update

Patrick Doherty, director of community and economic development, said the next steps for the council regarding the proposals from ARCADD and Lorax Partners ideas would include the needed "due diligence."

The earliest the council might act on either one of these proposals would be at its Oct. 16 meeting, Doherty said.

As for the proposed Crystal Way project's home, the former AMC Theaters site on 20th Avenue South, Doherty said Ashkouri and one of his financiers indicated a major step forward is coming soon.

"They stated the earnest money and a new purchase and sale agreement will be presented to the council by the next council meeting on Oct. 2," Doherty said.

Ashkouri and ARCADD need to have $150,000 on hand in order to meet the earnest money requirement. The architect and his firm have been pursuing the former AMC Theatres site since July 2011.

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