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Downtown arts center’s opening act

A high-profile land donation and $500,000 from the Legislature could put a performing arts center among the large-scale projects downtown Federal Way will pursue in coming years.

The Federal Way City Council will decide May 6 whether a performing arts center is a top priority. It will vote on whether to accept $500,000 awarded to the city from the state Legislature for a performing arts center. If the money is taken, pressure to identify a site and begin fundraising for the facility will be felt by the city as well as the grass-roots performing arts center coalition, which began the push for an arts center about one year ago.

Federal Way was offered $500,000 for pre-construction work on a performing arts center during the 2008 Legislative session. The grass-roots coalition proposes using $400,000 to hire an architect to study a site. The remaining $100,000 could be used to hire a construction manager to oversee the project, said City Manager Neal Beets.

Before the money can be allocated, the city council must vote to accept funding from the Legislature, then identify which of the two sites will benefit from the investment.

“We don’t want to spend $400,000 studying someone else’s site,” Beets said.

Several available land parcels have been discussed by the arts center coalition over the past year.

Of those, vacant land on the Truman High School site, 31455 28th Ave. S., and a new offer, a portion of the Pal-Do World site, 2200 S. 320th St., are the final contenders for a performing arts center. Both have been offered for donation.

The Federal Way School District owns the Truman site and agreed to donate the land for a performing arts center, given students will have access to the facility. Arts enthusiast and Federal Way resident Peggy LaPorte said she worries the Truman site does not offer enough traffic access — and that locating an arts center there would further congest the area.

Developer Brian Park owns the Pal-Do World site. He has invested millions of dollars in Federal Way development over the past decade, and has indicated to the city he wishes to redevelop land downtown, Beets said.

“Mr. Park has big visions for this area,” Beets said.

Donating a portion of his land for the construction of a performing arts center would benefit Park, who is considering his South 320th Street site for redevelopment. Developers like performing arts centers because they draw crowds willing to spend money, Beets said.

“I don’t know of a better place to have something like that,” Kathy Franklin, Federal Way Symphony board of directors president, said of the Pal-Do World location.

If Park’s redevelopment moved forward, the site would need more parking. A public parking garage would be an eligible project for Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT) funds. For the next 25 years, the state will give the city up to $1 million per year in LIFT funding, to be used for infrastructure improvements.

“Mr. Park has a lot to gain from this,” Beets said. “He wants and needs us as much as we want and need him.”

Pros and cons:

Park has the funds and a long-time desire to redevelop land in downtown Federal Way, but he has yet to do so, Beets said.

The Pal-Do World site has changed little in the time Park has owned it. However, the city council may find it hard to pass up the possibility of a performing arts center with access and visibility on South 320th Street.

“Having it on 320th Street would be half your marketing,” said Alan Bryce, Centerstage Theatre artistic director.

If the council votes to accept the Legislative funding, the performing arts center coalition and the city must have a detailed plan of how the start-up money will be used by June 30, 2009, Beets said.

Fundraising:

By the year’s end, the coalition’s goal is to identify the top 10 private donors, gain the interest and commitment of businesses willing to contribute to the project, and develop architectural images of a performing arts center, Beets said.

The 500-700-seat facility is expected to cost about $40 million, assuming land is donated, according to a feasibility study performed late last year by C.H. Johnson Consulting. The city may consider contributing about $20 million in real estate excise tax, which is collected on sales of Federal Way property and can only be used for capital projects, Beets said.

Another roughly $10 million would be lobbied for at the state level, he said. Additionally, about $5 million each in grants and private donations would round out the contributions, he said.

“There’s a heck of a lot of work to be done on the private fundraising side,” Beets said.

Before anything is set into action, the city council must vote on whether a performing arts center in Federal Way is its most urgent priority.

“I think there is going to be a lively, healthy discussion May 6,” Beets said.

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

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Check it out:

The council study session 5:30 p.m. May 6 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S, is open to the public, but public comments will not taken, as typical for study sessions. A public vote is not needed for the city to pursue a performing arts center.

Those wishing to express their feelings on the issue are encouraged to contact their council members via phone at (253) 835-2401 or via e-mail prior to the study session.

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