Federal Way arts center: Costliest project in city history?

Seating inside McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon. The facility is an example of what Federal Way seeks for its future performing arts and conference center. - Courtesy of
Seating inside McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon. The facility is an example of what Federal Way seeks for its future performing arts and conference center.
— image credit: Courtesy of

The Federal Way City Council heard a proposal for a performing arts center with a price tag of $31.7 million.

Supporters of the arts center say the project will be the catalyst that transforms downtown Federal Way.

The biggest obstacles, however, are money and time. If the proposal comes to fruition, the performing arts and conference center (PACC) would become the most expensive project of its kind in city history.

Of the two vacant parking lots near the transit center, the PACC is intended for the former Toys R Us property. In 2010, the city bought the 4-acre site with a state grant worth $5 million. As a condition, the PACC must be built within 10 years, or the city must pay back the money with interest.

Seattle-based developer Lorax Partners estimates that a 700-seat arts center with a 3,000-square-foot conference space could cost about $31.7 million. Preliminary designs include green landscapes and up to 170 parking spots, along with an option to build a 120-unit hotel.

Lorax executive P.J. Santos told the city council during a Feb. 11 meeting that the arts center will drive demand for hotel space, as evidenced from developments in cities such as Bremerton.

"This is not just a building," Santos said. "It's an incredible engine."

With a lack of funding sources, the city could consider several options. A property tax excess levy could raise the money if approved by voters who are willing to pay an extra $20 to $40 per year. Other revenue sources include more state grants and selling the theater's naming rights.

The city's director of economic development, Patrick Doherty, said the completed project may require a city subsidy of up to $200,000 a year.

In addition, the city has not determined whether a public or private entity would run the PACC.

During the council meeting, Doherty outlined the process for building the center. First comes the land use application and schematics, followed by commissioning the construction drawings. Each step could take up to a year, depending on the availability of money.

The project itself would take on a "pay-as-you-go" approach. "It's a step by step process," Doherty said.

City Councilwoman Susan Honda inquired on whether Lorax could design a smaller and more affordable arts center, but leave room for future expansion. Santos said the current design with 700 seats reflects the city's stated goals for building a quality venue from the start.

Councilwoman Dini Duclos suggested that if the arts center had a non-profit status, more grant money would be available.

The city council will discuss the proposal at its March 9 retreat.

"This would be the most expensive venture the city has ever undertaken," Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell told The Mirror. "I'm very interested in hearing what the public has to say at this time about this project, considered in light of these estimated costs."

Other big municipal projects in recent Federal Way history include the Community Center, which opened in 2007 and cost about $20 million.

Joann Piquette, president of the Federal Way Coalition for the Performing Arts, said arts groups from the community are willing to volunteer and donate toward the future PACC. She is optimistic that the project will one day become a reality.

"Many, many people are ready for this to go forward," Piquette told The Mirror. She noted the potential ripple effect that a long-awaited PACC can have on the city's economy. "It takes something like that before Federal Way can truly become a first-class city."

McIntyre Hall and Edmonds Center for the Arts

In 2008, a survey revealed 62 percent of 562 respondents favored the construction of a performing arts center in Federal Way.

Two examples for the city include the Edmonds Center for the Arts as well as McIntyre Hall, a performance and conference center in Mt. Vernon.

The latter name has surfaced more often in Federal Way's discussions. The total cost to build the 700-seat McIntyre Hall, which opened in 2006 on the Skagit Valley College campus, was just over $18 million. The hall hosts professional theater productions like "Late Nite Catechism" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" along with local programs such as high school music concerts.

McIntyre is managed by the college, but is owned by the Skagit Regional Public Facilities District, which is a county organization board with independent taxing authority.

With 704 seats, the Edmonds center opened in 2006 after an $18 million renovation project. The center is managed by a board of directors as well as the Edmonds Public Facilities District. In addition to hosting national touring acts such as Blind Boys of Alabama and comedian Larry Miller, the facility hosts local groups from Edmonds Community College, the Cascade Symphony Orchestra, Olympic Ballet Theatre and Sno-King Community Chorale.


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