Consultant: City needs management team to oversee downtown

"The downtown needs a manager and a Business Improvement District.That's the opinion of Hunter Interests Inc., the Maryland-based firm studying the pros and cons of constructing a public facility in the downtown. In March, the city hired Hunter to prepare a public facility study and a tourism plan. The city is spending $37,500 in lodging tax revenue for the plans. In its preliminary findings released May 4, the company said a large convention center wouldn't be profitable before the city accomplishes its goal of creating a destination downtown. Instead, Hunter recommended the city build a sport complex or lure a college branch. The firm's final study, released this week, also includes an analysis of building a performing arts center.City Council and city lodging tax committee members have until the end of the month to submit comments on the plan to Iwen Wang, the city's Management Services director. The City Council ultimately will decide whether the city should commit to an arts center or sports complex.Is the council also responsible for stepping up and saying a $20 million facility is what we need in Federal Way, let's take it to the next step? asked Councilmember Dean McColgan at a a joint meeting of the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee and council Finance/Economic Development/Regional Affairs Committee meeting this week....The council may say 'No way,' said Councilmember Mary Gates, who heads the lodging tax committee. We're not just five members of the community. We better be checking in on the public. Regardless of what the council decides to do with the downtown, the city needs management to get it done. Little hope exists of revitalizing the downtown to its potential without an active group of business and property owners who meet regularly and oversee efforts, said Geoff Graham, Hunter Interests' vice president. This policy group must be supported by an experienced staff whose sole responsibility is to manage the downtown.More than 1,200 Business Improvement Districts have formed in the United States, most during the past 15 years, Graham said. With such districts, cities authorize a stakeholder group to manage services and mandate a property assessment from all the properties within the district.The districts use the money for such things as maintenance, security and advertising. If the council approves the idea of a public facility, the best bets are a performing arts center or sports complex, Graham said.A 1,000- to 1,200-seat theater would be optimal for King County. Fund-raising would need to be the city's first step in building a performing arts center, Graham said. It wouldn't happen instantly, and the city of Kent is ahead in its efforts to build a 600-seat theater and 125-seat black box theater in its downtown.Another component of transforming the downtown into a center for the cultural arts and entertainment is luring people there with festivals and other events so they begin to think of Federal Way as a city that offers those things. We want to put heads with beds but to change the image of Federal Way will be a job as well, Graham said. A sports complex would work well on the fringe of the city center. Such complexes, such as the 200-acre Disney Wide World of Sports in Orlando, can be big money-makers, attracting people from across the nation for competitions.You have the airport nearby, Graham said. If you build a facility, we think you'd be a real strong player, especially on the West Coast. A possible facility would be the proposed Paradome concept, which is being planned for development near Everett by private sector developers. It will offer traditional health club facilities as well as numerous climbing walls, extensive pool facilities with wind and wave machines and indoor and outdoor ski and snowboard training.The Paradome is not funded yet, Graham said. I think we could attract it here as well. -------------------- Public facility pointers* A performing arts center would best be located either on top of the planned Sound Transit Center 1,200-vehicle parking garage or at the Truman High School site. Locating on top of the garage would reduce land acquisition costs and eliminate the need for parking. * The city should aim to attract a mix of restaurants and entertainment establishments to the center to further draw people to the performing arts center, which would ideally seat 1,000 to 1,200 people. * A major sports complex that would take 5 to 15 acres would not be the best use of Federal Way's limited city center core area, but it should be built close enough to draw pedestrians to the center. * The preferred type of sports facility would be a multipurpose complex anchored by a genre of extreme sports or a sport such as gymnastics that could attract a substantial amount of regional competition and local training demand (beginner to expert).Source: Hunter Interests Inc. draft report on Federal Way's public facility and tourism plan. "

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