News

Tapping downtown's potential

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

The city’s bold steps last year to redevelop downtown Federal Way will continue into 2008.

As the city council and management staff discussed the future of Federal Way on Jan. 26, the conversation turned to sustaining the economy.

Everyone agreed the challenge facing city officials is in creating a downtown that attracts visitors and shoppers. Though an exact way to do this is still unknown, the city acquired a powerful tool in 2007 that could help transform Federal Way’s landscape.

The city received state Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT) funding. The money has given the city leverage for negotiating with property owners and working with them to redevelop their land, said Patrick Doherty, director of economic development.

“We are in a position to consider a partnership,” Doherty said.

The city council and management staff would like to see residents shopping in their hometown. Thriving small and ethnic businesses as well as “destination shopping” are needed in Federal Way.

“We have to create the environment for people to want to stay here,” Deputy Mayor Eric Faison said.

Beginning the process:

The effort to achieve this goal has already begun. The city council purchased the site, formerly owned by Cratsenberg Companies, which once featured the AMC Theater. Last year, the council chose a developer to construct the mixed-use Symphony project on the little more than 4-acre parcel.

But this is just the beginning of the redevelopment the city council and staff hope to see take place in the coming years.

“Our city center is now at that point where pretty much any site is a potential site for economic redevelopment,” Doherty said.

Ideal candidates:

Since the city formulated a comprehensive plan in 1995, it has kept a close eye on land in the downtown center, Doherty said.

The Commons mall, Pal-Do World, Center Plaza and Sea-Tac Village sites, all along South 320th Street, each would be ideal pieces of property for redevelopment efforts, he said.

The city is keeping its redevelopment options open.

“We’re open for business,” Doherty said. “We are ready to talk and have an opportunity to explore public/private partnerships.”

Some of Federal Way’s property holders, such as Brian B.C. Park, owner of Pal-Do World and the former Target and Toys ‘R’ Us, have shown an interest in further developing their downtown land, Doherty said. Others, such as Andrew Cratsenberg, have already developed a portion of their land and have not recently shown any more interest in further redevelopment, he said.

Past partnership efforts:

In summer 2006, the city went as far as to hire an architect to illustrate how The Commons mall could be redeveloped, Doherty said. The hope was to engage mall ownership, Steadfast Commercial Properties,

and show them the potential of the property.

“We were in a partnership mode, and in a show of good faith we spent the money,” Doherty said.

At the time, the mall ownership was engaged in its current project, which has since added a handful of mostly restaurants facing South 320th Street. The city’s plan to share the architect’s work did not formulate as expected. The city met with a representative from Steadfast Commercial Properties, but the man was preparing to leave the company and the meeting did not serve its intended purpose, Doherty said.

“We never really had a very fruitful engagement over that effort,” he said.

Looking forward:

The city likes to keep its paths of communication with these owners open. Now that it expects to see state funding every year for the next 25 years, the time is right to again approach property owners and discuss possible partnerships, Doherty said.

Each year, Federal Way will receive $1 million in LIFT funding. This money must be matched by the city through tax revenue generated within the revenue development area created downtown.

It can only be used for infrastructure, though. This includes public improvement projects, such as trails, parks, open space, public parking and the construction of new roadways, Doherty said. In a partnership with land owners, the city could choose to fund items such as structured parking, which is expensive and would be needed in most any future downtown project, Doherty said.

“It’s kind of touchy; we don’t want to send the message that we have an open checkbook,” he said

Doherty said he has already approached Park and discussed this partnering opportunity with him.

Park is currently working on an undisclosed redevelopment plan for his sites, but has not submitted applications to the city, Doherty said. Details on this and other redevelopment projects will not be made public until an application has been submitted, he said.

“There are quite a few potential projects out there that could happen,” Doherty said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Check it out:

To view a list and map of properties the city has identified as good candidates for redevelopment in Federal Way, visit the city’s Site/ Building Locator Web page at www.cityoffederalway.com/Page.aspx?page=288.

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Federal Way by the numbers:

14 commercial development projects are under way.

11 commercial development projects are under review.

8 single-family residential projects are awaiting plot approval.

7 single-family residential projects are under construction.

6 single-family residential projects are under review.

4 private projects are under review.

2 multi-family residential projects are under construction.

2 multi-family residential projects are under review.

1 City of Federal Way parks project is under construction.

1 City of Federal Way parks project is under review.

All data is as of fall 2007 and gathered at www.cityoffederalway.com/Page.aspx?view=449. Questions about new development can be answered by calling (253) 835-2607.

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