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City Hall might move to downtown

"As the city moves forward with its plan to create a downtown, the emerging city center may get a new feature - City Hall.Federal Way City Council members next week will begin talking about whether the downtown is the best site for a new City Hall and whether some combination of City Hall, police department and the municipal court makes sense. Now's the right time to start talking about the city's options because the city will pay off its debt on City Hall in 2002, officials said. Also, the city's leases on the municipal court and police department buildings expire in 2002, though both contain two one-year options to renew.City officials haven't completed a thorough cost analysis for potential new locations, but locating in the downtown could be a costly proposition, said city spokesman Derek Matheson. It's not clear if taxpayers would pick up the costs of any new facility.Clearly one of the issues there is property values are much higher downtown, Matheson said.When City Hall was placed in the First Way building shortly after incorporation in 1990, the accounting firm Brantley Janson Yost & Ellison owned the building. The city purchased the building about a year later for $2.3 million and began to lease space to its former landlord. The firm moved out last year, said Iwen Wang, the city's Management Services director.Wang says the city could probably sell the two-story building for $3 million to $4 million.Neither the 3-year-old police department nor the municipal court, which started earlier this year, was intended to permanently occupy their present locations, in separate buildings in the 34000 block of Ninth Avenue South, said city spokesman Derek Matheson. Matheson ticks off the problems with the existing police headquarters - poor access, unsecure parking, poor design. The city essentially shoehorned a police department into a building not intended for such a use.For the first few years, that wasn't as critical as just getting the department up and running, Wang said. Now it's up and running and it's time to look at this again.The city-approved hike in the utility tax that paid for Celebration Park's development also sets aside $4.5 million for a new police building. With interest earnings and an additional $680,000 the council set aside in late 1999, the total available is $6 million. Locating civic services - whether it be City Hall, police department, municipal court or a combination of all three- in the city center is not a new idea. The city's Comprehensive Plan calls locating civic building in and around the city center a necessary step to establish a clear direction for the downtown.The target area for a civic facility is near 20th Avenue South, bordered roughly by South 316th Street to the north and South 320th Street to the south, according to the comprehensive plan. Stephen Clifton, the city's Community Development Services director, says he believes the downtown is the most appropriate place for a new City Hall, given the millions being spent to develop a downtown to which residents and out-of-towners alike will be drawn.It shows we're committed and we're serious about providing a catalyst to the city center, said Clifton at the City Council's retreat in January. 'We're going to move there so follow us.' At that retreat, Deputy Mayor Linda Kochmar pointed out another benefit. The city could contribute toward a downtown filled with tall office buildings. That has happened in other cities, with city halls placed in several floors of leased space in office buildings until the space could be bought.You have a start on a high-rise, Kochmar said.Police Chief Ron Wood told council members at the retreat that he believes the police department and municipal court should be in the same building, but that the downtown is probably not the best site for such a public safety building. Police cars heading in and out of the station would contribute to - and be slowed by - traffic congestion in the downtown, Wood said.Instead, he suggested the current City Hall might be an appropriate site for a combined police station/municipal court.It doesn't mean I'm endorsing the City Hall building but it is a viable location and can be made into an appropriate facility at pretty reasonable costs, Wood said.As far as potential City Hall locations, Debra Coates, the city's economic development executive, suggests several possibilities for a high-rise City Hall. Those include the Sound Transit facility planned for South 317th Street and 23rd Avenue South; the Federal Way Public Schools Transportation Headquarters, 1066 S. 320th St.; and the school district's administrative headquarters, 31405 18th Ave. S, as part of a partnership with the district.Coates said it makes sense for the council to seriously look at locating City Hall downtown.Where is City Hall in every city you think about? Coates said. It's always in their downtown. ----------------------To learn moreThe Federal Way City Council will consider the city's building options for City Hall, the police department and the municipal court at 5:30 p.m. on June 20 in Council Chambers of City Hall, 33530 First Way S. The meeting is open to the public."

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