Coates to leave legacy of progress

"Economic Development Executive Debra Coates, credited with attracting Capital One to Federal Way as well as bringing businesses in line with downtown plans like the sign code, has resigned. Coates will become the vice president for Washington Mutual's corporate properties service group, overseeing operations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah. Coates officially works for the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, but reports to a board of directors made up of city and chamber officials via a contract that Federal Way has with the chamber. Though Coates is leaving, that contract for economic development services has not been terminated, City Manager David Moseley said. It expires at the end of the year, but either party can end it with 30 days notice. Coates said all of the projects she's started are in a spot where they can easily move forward, thus she expects a clean transition when she leaves in two weeks. Though she is excited about her new opportunity, she says she'll miss working in Federal Way.I've given my heart and soul to this job for the past three years, said the Thomas Jefferson graduate. ...This was never a job. It was an opportunity to help play a role in Federal Way.And play a role she did, says former Mayor Ron Gintz.Due to the way the partnership was set up, Coates was able to advocate for both sides when the city and business community hit snags in relations, Gintz said. She did a good job of pointing out the interests and values of each party to the other, he said. That helped forge common ground so the parties could move ahead, he said.Coates' contacts in the business world and the Federal Way community, gained partly as a long-time Federal Way resident and partly in her prior job with King County's Economic Development Council, helped smooth the way for many accomplishments that benefitted Federal Way, Gintz said.I don't think anyone could have filled it as effectively as she did, he said.Gintz said Coates provided the steam to push forward the city's emerging International District, a component of Federal Way's downtown plan.Moseley credits Coates with paving the way for the city's sign code and many other elements of the city's downtown plan. Chamber President and CEO Alison Corrigan said Coates was instrumental in bringing the planned Sound Transit station in the downtown core. Coates also was tireless in her mission to bring information about the downtown plan to city residents, speaking to Kiwanis clubs and other groups, Corrigan said.I bet she's done 300 different presentations on it, Corrigan said.With the sign code, when a group of old-time business owners became upset and vocal about changes requiring shorter signs, Coates went in and worked with them one-on-one to smooth things over, Gintz said. She also was instrumental in setting up a grant program through the city to aid business owners in replacing signs, and helped many businesses gain low-interest loans from local banks for new signs.In addition to work on the downtown, Corrigan says Coates helped create an entreprenarial spirit in Federal Way that has brought employers, as well as an improved tax base, here. On the flip side, she's done much to promote Federal Way as a desirable place to bring a business, Corrigan said.Mark Clirehugh, vice president for Kidder, Mathews and Segner Inc., agrees.I think she, as our economic development director, has influenced several companies into choosing Federal Way, Clirehugh said.The prime example is Coates' recruitment of Capital One, which employs 505 people, Corrigan said.Coates also played a role in establishing Rite Aid, Pep Boys, the Courtyard by Mariott and Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites hotels, Pavilions Centre, changes at Ross Plaza and a new entryway for the SeaTac Mall, Corrigan said.She's done a lot of ombudsman work with a lot of different businesses, Corrigan said.But Coates did not help every business that came along. Coates alerted City Hall to the purchasing of the old Silo building by Castle Superstores. That allowed city staff the opportunity to combat a giant sex store going into our downtown core, Corrigan said.Coates' role was never easy. Three years ago one of her first tasks was helping to repair the fractured relations between the city and chamber as well as the business community, Gintz said.Though she had a tough task, made more difficult by the fact that she had to answer to a committee of city and chamber representatives rather than to a single boss, she carried off her job with grace and style, says Bob Scholes, former chamber board chairman and CEO of ESM Consulting Engineers.Given the tools she had to work with, and the complexity of what had to be done, she did a remarkable job, Scholes said.Corrigan said Coates has helped the community in many other ways. For example, she's helped numerous neighborhoods apply for block grants for improvements to their areas.And she's served a strong volunteer role in Federal Way, which Coates says will continue. Though Coates will work in Seattle, she says her home will remain here. She's an active volunteer here, serving on the King County Housing Authority Board commission, as a court appointed special advocate, or CASA, and as president of the Federal Way Boys and Girls Club Board.Jim Hamilton, also on the Boys and Girls Club Board, said Coates always has been an active board member, working diligently in a number of areas - even before taking the president post.Recently, she helped work on the organization's strategic fund-raising plan. And as president she adds representing the Federal Way club at countywide meetings to her plate, he said.Coates' communication and organizational skills have long made her a go-to person for the board, Hamilton said.When we need a contact to assist us with something, he said, she's the one we turn to. "

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