Federal Way picks Lorax Partners to develop arts center

Beginning last winter, city staff had begun working on a number of alternative ideas for the AMC Theaters site on 20th Avenue South, with a focus on an open/green space, combined with a mixture of residential and retail businesses. - Courtesy image
Beginning last winter, city staff had begun working on a number of alternative ideas for the AMC Theaters site on 20th Avenue South, with a focus on an open/green space, combined with a mixture of residential and retail businesses.
— image credit: Courtesy image

The Federal Way City Council has picked Seattle-based developer Lorax Partners to begin the first stages of work for the proposed performing arts and conference center (PACC) in downtown Federal Way.

Lorax Partners was chosen over ARCADD Inc., the Massachusetts-based company that proposed the ambitious "Crystal Way" project for another part of the city's downtown core.

The agreement entered into by the city during the Oct. 16 meeting is a "pre-development" agreement, meaning that in many respects, it's an exploratory phase of the project. The city could choose to opt out of working with Lorax Partners at the end of this pre-development phase.

Even so, council members expressed their pleasure at finally moving forward with the PACC.

"I'm very happy we're at this stage, and that we're going to take this vote tonight," said Councilmember Dini Duclos. "That's the reason I came on the council originally. I was worried about our downtown and I wanted to see economic development get started down there. And this is one great way to get it started."

Councilmember Jeanne Burbidge echoed Duclos' sentiments, saying she feels Lorax Partners is a good fit for the city's plans downtown.

"(The PACC) can serve a very useful function not only in providing the services that the name implies, but also in forming a kind of anchor for downtown," she said. "And it can also provide some really significant synergy that will result in additional development that we're all looking forward to and will benefit our city in terms of civic health, and also the very much needed economic development that we've been working so hard to provide as a foundation for the city."

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.

Lorax Partners provided three initial ideas for the PACC project, said Patrick Doherty, the city's director of economic and community development.

"They presented three very concept level ideas. One was just a stand-alone performing arts center. I'm not sure that's where we want to go, but this idea just showed how it could fit on the site and leave the remainder of the site for future development," Doherty said. "They showed a full program with the PACC and a hotel. And then they just showed, for purposes of illustration, that if we didn't go that way, urban residential could be brought (here) as well."

Doherty explained how Lorax Partners wants to make sure the PACC project is a true partnership with the city.

"They're positioning that this is our facility, and it should be designed in conjunction with our input," he said. "As opposed to designing something and hoping that it meets our objectives."

This first phase would be about three months long, and would include a concept design, a "baseline programmatic design concept," functional planning, 3-D massing models, a site plan, and alternative building configurations and parking, Doherty said.

Doherty also reiterated that the agreement entered into by the city is not permanently binding.

"The first phase does not obligate the city to enter into the ultimate development agreement. It's obviously a first step in the direction of that partnership, but it does not obligate," he said. "We can receive that information and that concept design and stop here if we choose to."

The cost for this first stage would be approximately $255,000, Doherty said, and would "accrue" to the $750,000 redevelopment/design account from the City Center Redevelopment Fund.

The Lorax Partners team for this project will consist of LMN Architects, Mortenson Construction, CBRE Hotels and Columbia Hospitality.

LMN Architects is a firm that the city is familiar with already, and one that Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell wondered would fit in this project.

Previously, the city received some cost estimates from LMN Architects for the PACC in the range of $40 million. A concurrent study at that time from a smaller, less prestigious architectural firm, Westlake Associates of Colorado, could do the project for approximately $20 million.

Ferrell wondered if LMN's presence would once again mean a spike in costs.

Doherty said that those cost issues would probably not arise this time around, because part of the agreement between the city and Lorax Partners would be a guaranteed maximum price for the PACC.

What that guaranteed maximum price would be is still undetermined at this time, Doherty said, although there is a general sense of the cost being somewhere in the range of $25 million to $30 million.





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