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Federal Way still looking for identity

Federal Way will be 12 years old next Thursday and, like most adolescents, the city is looking for an identity.

Seattle-based design firm Leonhardt:Fitch presented four general options — location, amateur sports, new city potential and capitol of South King County — to the Federal Way City Council last Tuesday.

The city hired the group for $88,000 last year to help guide the branding process.

After weighing Federal Way’s assets and what Leonhardt identified as the 3Ds — doable, different and desirable — the group identified the four concepts the city could use to promote itself and to attract businesses and residents.

None of the four options necessarily will be the final outcome, but all will guide city staff in promoting the city’s best attributes and creating brand recognition for Federal Way.

Each option presents a set of pros and cons, so the Leonhardt Group will conduct 100 random telephone surveys over the next month to gather public opinion on the four concepts. The group will report the results of the survey and offer their recommendations to the city council March 19.

Assistant City Manager Derek Matheson said the options present different levels of difficulty and payoff.

“Amateur sports is the most difficult because it requires on-going commitment,” he said. “Location is probably the easiest, but would it have the impact?”

The Leonhardt group has established a Web site where citizens can take an on-line survey on the concept choices.

Rob Osler, the Leonhardt Group’s brand strategy director, told the city councilmembers Tuesday night the amateur sports concept might be the most definitive for the city, but it might also be the most divisive.

The location and new city options might be the easiest for the city to pursue, but they lack focus, he said, and might not stick in people’s minds as defining Federal Way.

Federal Way city councilmembers established their goals for branding the city at their retreat in 2001. They decided they wanted to take control of the city’s reputation and identity, be more entrepreneurial in relationships with the private sector, improve communication with residents and express to residents and outsiders the benefits of living and doing business in Federal Way.

“Those were relevant then, they’re relative now and that’s why we’re here,” Osler said. “It’s really about finding that consistent message.”

The Leonhardt Group conducted interviews with stakeholders, including developers and business owners, from December 2001 to February this year.

Osler said consultants heard many of the same things from the stakeholders — that Federal Way has a great location, natural amenities and quality of life, but the permitting process was difficult, chain retailers dominated what little downtown there was and the city lacked an identity, sometimes suffering from negative perceptions.

In addition, Osler said stakeholders thought Highway 99, the SeaTac Mall and traffic were major problems with the city’s image.

The current perception of Federal Way, Osler said, is a potentially good city with visible problems and a bad atmosphere.

In determining a branding strategy for the city, the Leonhardt Group wants to create a message that will provide consistent recognition and will create direct benefits to residents and business owners.

“We want this to pay off,” Osler said. “It’s not just an exercise in redoing the logo. We want benefits to drive Federal Way.”

Share your ideas

The Leonhardt:Fitch design group has established two Web sites where Federal Way business owners and residents can offer their opinions about the city’s image.

Federal Way residents can take the Internet survey at: www.federalwaysurvey.com.

Federal Way business owners can take their survey at: www.federalwaybranding.com.

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