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State of the City 2013: Mayor focuses on development
Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest called for transforming downtown with a performing arts and conference center (PACC) and a town square development.
These "transformational" projects will "create critical mass to stimulate urban development," Priest said in his state of the city address Wednesday at the Federal Way Chamber membership luncheon.
"We know that if we just continue doing what we’ve been doing, we won’t realize the vision of a vibrant downtown," he said.
Public investment is a key economic development tool, he said. The idea is to take a "dual approach" on these proposals with a design that prepares them for "shovel-ready status," which then serves as leverage to apply for grants.
For the proposed $31.7 million PACC, Priest wants to move forward with a schematic design. This will open the door for finding more money to fund the project, and Priest said he understands the challenges behind it. The PACC would pair with a future urban park at the former AMC site on 20th Avenue South. The park would feature a mix of retail and office space to suit the city's vision for the downtown core.
As for the office and retail sector of Federal Way's economy, Priest said he is optimistic by new businesses including HomeGoods, The Ram, Buffalo Wild Wings and a yet-to-be-announced Kohl's department store at The Commons mall. DaVita kidney dialysis will open an office in April with 350 employees after moving from Tacoma.
"When DaVita’s move is complete, we’ll have filled 360,000 square feet of commercial space. That's the equivalent of four buildings the size of City Hall with new businesses operating in our community. That is a strengthening economy," he said. "Are we resting on our laurels? And the answer is, not on your life."
Priest did not address the recently announced departures of aerospace manufacturer Orion Industries, ball company Baden Sports and discount retailer Big Lots.
Other highlights from the speech
• "Permits issued increased 21.9 percent in 2012. While it doesn’t make the papers, there is a continual stream of both new businesses as well as those businesses that are choosing to keep their roots in Federal Way," he said.
• Priest said the city has put forth a "balanced and sustainable budget" with more than $3 million in savings.
• Priest praised the 2012 completion of transportation projects such as the Triangle Project on I-5 and the Pacific Highway construction.
• "I would put our parks and rec offerings up against any other city, including Seattle," Priest said on Federal Way's park system. He praised the Federal Way Community Center as the flagship of the system.
• He credited the Federal Way Police Department for its Home Burglary Emphasis team and the expansion of the Safe City program into neighborhoods. "In the last two years we have increased participation in the program from 40 businesses and residents to almost 1,400," he said.
• The city refuses to turn to easy budget fixes like a Business and Occupation (B&O) tax, he said.
• The city's commercial vacancy rate dropped from about 43 percent in 2009 to about 27 percent in 2012.
• Throughout the speech, Priest repeatedly praised Federal Way citizens for embracing a "culture of responsibility."
• A priority for Federal Way is to change the first impression people get of the city upon exiting Interstate 5. He referred to the downtown area as the city's front door. "It is an image that we must change," he said. "The question is, what do you put there?"
• Priest touted a memo he wrote in 1996 about what he learned from the Mayor’s Institute of Design study on how to improve downtown Federal Way.
Read the speech