Council debates cost and necessity of proposed PACC

Rendering of the proposed performing arts and conference center on 20th Avenue South near the Federal Way Transit Center. - Courtesy photo
Rendering of the proposed performing arts and conference center on 20th Avenue South near the Federal Way Transit Center.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

The Federal Way City Council spent a morning, and debated into the afternoon, about the merits of the proposed performing arts and conference center (PACC) project for the downtown area.

During the council's retreat on March 9, some council members expressed their support for the project wholeheartedly. Others expressed serious reservations about the project in light of a recent cost estimate of about $32 million.

"Ever since the almost $32 million cost came out, I've been very surprised," said Councilmember Susan Honda. "I really want to see a performing arts center, but the cost of it is very concerning to me."

Newly-minted Councilmember Kelly Maloney echoed Honda's thoughts, saying her biggest concern is that some part of that nearly $32 million price tag will be passed onto Federal Way residents in the form of new taxes.

"That's my biggest issue. Are we going to have to tax them?" she asked. "I just want to make sure that we know from our residents that they're willing to pay for this with the potential of taxes."

Maloney added that she'd like to hear more from a greater segment of the community about the PACC.

Maloney continued, saying that for her, at least, the PACC is a difficult decision.

"I'm really on the fence about this. I have a lot of questions that still aren't answered," she added.

Diana Noble-Gulliford, like Maloney, was appointed to the council at the beginning of the year. Noble-Gulliford said she's not entirely sure that the PACC is a silver bullet solution to the economic woes the city and its downtown have been experiencing for years now.

"I feel this project is a wonderful project, but my own personal concern is, is it going to be enough to drive the economic development our city needs for the next 10 or 20 years?" she said. "I like the project, I feel that (its cost) is still a little high. I think it has a great location."

Noble-Gulliford also expressed concerns that the city might be trying to take too large of a role in the project, saying the city should be a facilitator for economic development, but not necessarily a driving engine. She said there should be a city staff position solely focused on economic development, in order to attract economic development to the city and field any businesses that might choose to come to Federal Way.

"I like the project, I just don't know that it (should be) the sole stimulus for jumpstarting Federal Way's economy," she said.

Councilmember Bob Celski expressed his support of the project, citing that it's time for the city to move forward and take the risk on something to attempt to revitalize the downtown core. He brought up various projects that have happened throughout the city since he moved here in the early 1970s, citing businesses like Wild Waves and The Commons Mall, and public projects like Celebration Park, the Community Center and the BPA Trail.

"Looking at these assets, the owners, the investors, the benefactors, really took a risk with bringing those assets into our city. A risk both financial…and a risk of putting their reputations on the line," he said. "They took the risk, and today, we as a city and our citizens are way better off for that."

Celski said something is still missing in Federal Way, though, but feels the PACC may be the project that fills that void.

"It's time to create something that will bring excitement into this city, for the citizens and also for visitors. And in my opinion, it takes the aspect of a 2-acre park and town square, and I'm going to put myself out on a limb and say, it's time for a PACC."

The issue of time is something that's been weighing on Councilmember Dini Duclos, she said.

"I moved here in 1995…Nothing has happened in this city since I moved here, except businesses have come and gone. And tons of our people," she said. "I'm not scared by this number. The money is out there, you just have to get it. $31 million is not that much in the scheme of things when you're doing a project like this."

Duclos also made a heavy push for the council to move forward on funding an initial design for the PACC. She said that for the city to have a clearer picture of what kind of money to ask for, and from whom, the city needs to be able to at least show something to potential investors.

Councilmember Jeanne Burbidge said she supports the PACC and is also feeling that now is the time for this project to finally get started.

"We are in urgent need of some investment, by our city, some demonstration, that we are willing to make that investment ourselves, in order to bring in the kinds of investment we are looking for," Burbidge said. "We have a tremendous opportunity to go ahead in a way that can make a huge difference for our city and could bring in exactly what we need."

Burbidge also cited a conversation with an unnamed prominent businessman in the community, saying this person told her he thinks the PACC is exactly what the city needs.

"There is a whole army of people sitting in the wings, waiting to begin," she said.

Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell said his position is similar to Maloney and Honda, in that he feels the project idea is a good one, but that the recent cost estimate was an issue for him.

"We all want a community that we're proud of. We all want a community in which we see growth that's synergistic, that's focused on families, that on Saturdays and Sundays, we don't get in our car and drive somewhere else," he said. "I think, no matter what we do, we have to be careful that we don't find ourselves compromised financially. I find myself very torn. There's merit to (the project), but I am concerned about the cost."

Mayor Skip Priest also said he feels the weight of time on this project pushing against the city and its leaders.

"There is a side of me that's reminded about those 16 years," he said. "It is a big decision. At the same time, there is a point where one has to decide, how long do you not do anything? I'm scared to death about this, if we miss this opportunity."


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