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Federal Way flirts with park ideas for vacant downtown site

Federal Way is exploring alternatives for the former AMC Theatres site on 20th Avenue South. - Courtesy photo
Federal Way is exploring alternatives for the former AMC Theatres site on 20th Avenue South.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

From skyscrapers to a Crystal Palace, ideas have come and gone for one vacant parking lot in downtown Federal Way.

The latest proposal for the former AMC Theatres property on 20th Avenue South? A park that could potentially serve as a "town square."

The 4-acre site borders the Federal Way Transit Center as well as another vacant parking lot that's slated for a performing arts center.

In 2007, the city purchased the AMC site for $4.1 million and has since entertained high-profile offers that fizzled out.

Seattle-based Twin Development had proposed a trio of skyscrapers with condos for well-heeled immigrants. After three years and seven extensions to make the deal, the developer bowed out in 2011.

More recently, a Boston developer pitched the Crystal Palace, which fused residential and retail in an eccentric design that evoked its name. The developer, ARCADD, failed to come up with $150,000 in earnest money last fall.

Moving forward, the city is exploring smaller alternatives. At a Feb. 11 special meeting, the Federal Way City Council discussed the possibility of a park at the site.

Patrick Doherty, the city's economic development director, presented sketches for a park mixed with private development.

The general idea is to designate about half the site toward a landscaped park with greenery, a possible amphitheater, perhaps a water feature, and even a circular road for vehicles to loop around. Private companies could build shops along the perimeter, for example, and complement a European-style plaza or public gathering space.

Doherty said the concept could cost about $2.5 million if the city decides to go forward. Maintenance of the park could cost an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 a year, he said.

Doherty said the AMC site could become more attractive to private developers if the council takes the next steps on the adjacent performing arts center.

Mayor Skip Priest said the park proposal is an example of a "transformative" project that can stimulate downtown, similar to the proposed arts center. Councilwoman Dini Duclos expressed her frustration at the lack of progress in moving forward on critical developments in the city center.

"We've been talking about downtown since 1990," said Duclos, "and we haven't done a damn thing."

Examples

Here are a few examples of successful urban spaces with similarities to the park proposal for downtown Federal Way. Click on the name to learn more:

• Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Ore., is considered one of the best public squares of its kind.

• Westlake Park in downtown Seattle.

• Campus Martius Park in Detroit.

• Jackson Square, a public park in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

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