News

Council chooses developer for massive project

By JACINDA HOWARD

The Mirror

The City Council decided, in a 4-to-3 vote Tuesday night, to aim high — 20-stories high — in its quest to embark on a journey to mold the city’s downtown core.

The council made its final choice for the development of the former AMC Theaters site, located near the transit center on 23rd Avenue South.

Councilmembers Jeanne Burbidge, Linda Kochmar, Eric Faison and Michael Park voted for the United Properties Ltd. proposal, while Jim Ferrell, Jack Dovey and Dean McColgan voted against it.

United Properties Ltd. presented a mixed-use project consisting of residential, office and retail space housed in four buildings, three measuring around 20-stories tall.

Williams & Dame/Alpert Capital proposed another mixed-use project to be housed in two high-rises measuring about 10-stories high, another at 20-stories high and a theater. The council’s deliberation was lengthy — exceeding past 10 p.m. — and chose United’s proposal because of a combination of reasons, Faison said.

“There was a multitude of pros and cons on both (proposals),” he said.

The final decision came because United Properties Ltd. offered a flexible design, to buy the site from the city at a price higher than what the city paid for it and a quicker construction process.

United Properties Ltd’s design can potentially allow for more retail space than originally proposed along the 316th Street boundaries of its development, United Properties Ltd. president Victor Setton said. The company is willing to work and negotiate with the city on the final design of the development, he said.

United Properties Ltd. is buying the land upfront, Setton said. The city bought the property for $4.1 million and United Properties Ltd. has agreed to purchase it for $6.156 million. This offers a decreased amount of risk for the city, Director of Economic Development Patrick Doherty said at the council meeting.

United Properties Ltd. will build using a pre-cast concrete construction method. The method is environmentally-friendly and is estimated to be completed one year before Williams & Dame/Alpert Capital projected it could complete its building. United Properties’ four towers are expected to be finished in 2012.

“It not only cost less, but the construction period is much faster,” Park said at the council meeting.

Both developers planned to build in four phases, the first being the construction of the residential spaces. The United Properties Ltd. development is estimated to cost about $228 million and Williams & Dame/Alpert Capital’s design would have cost an estimated $356 million. United Properties Ltd. has assured the council that most of its proposed one-acre Symphony Park will be built in the first phase of construction, which is appealing to Kochmar, who has expressed her fears of having a large hole and incomplete development at the site.

United Properties Ltd. offered a more professional and thorough response to the city’s request for the downtown development, Faison said. The council’s final decision was not made with ease.

“We’re all very concerned with how our downtown is going to look,” Kochmar said. “We all want to do the right thing.”

Those opposed to the United Properties Ltd. proposal said they felt the development was not what the council originally agreed to pursue.

A desire to capture retail sales tax dollars fueled the purchase of the AMC Theaters site and the council made a big swing somewhere in the decision-making process and lost focus of that desire, McColgan said at the meeting.

“I’m not sure at what point Federal Way became a city that can’t support a lifestyle base,” he said.

Those in favor of the proposal said the development still met the council’s goals and the inclusion of more residential space, rather than retail space, was dictated by the market.

The council has heard it “loud and clear” that the property is unable to support all retail space, Burbidge said at the council meeting.

Before the group’s decision several audience and council members weighed in on how apartments might effect Federal Way’s future revitalization. All audience members, with the exception of City Council candidate Dini Duclos, who spoke publicly on the topic wished not to see apartments downtown. Several people expressed a desire for the council to pick a proposal that would represent Federal Way well and make its residents proud to live there.

“I don’t think our downtown core was designed for apartments,” Dovey said.

Apartments, especially ones such as those planned for Symphony, which will rent for approximately $200 more than other apartments in Federal Way, should not be confused with low-income housing, Duclos said.

“Federal Way is not a metropolitan city, such as Seattle or Tacoma,” Kochmar said. “It is a core city that must focus both on residential and retail growth. We’re planning our city in a regional effort.”

“The issue of whether to include apartments is really part of a bigger issue of how successful the project will be in creating and inspiring spin-off development downtown,” Faison said. “The City Council was elected to represent people with various income levels and it needs to provide development that is affordable for multiple types of people.”

The number of apartments, 400, to be included in the United Properties Ltd. development is not a fitting figure for the location, but it can be negotiated and adjusted to fit the city’s needs, he added.

The council’s decision does not mean the development’s design is final.

“It’s important to note that both proposals are still in the concept stage,” Doherty said.

Doherty recommended the council set guidelines for United Properties Ltd. to follow, negotiate the best way to offer mixed uses for the development and discuss the proportion of apartments and condominiums with the developer.

A host of issues must be addressed before the site’s final design can be agreed upon by the city and United Properties Ltd.

“It’s important to include as many (residents) as possible in this kind of decision,” Tom Pierson, CEO of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, said.

Staff writer Jacinda Howard: 925-5565, jhoward@fedwaymirror.com

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