News

Mall purchase by city off and crawling

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

Don’t expect Federal Way to get into the shopping mall business.

Based on the reaction of fellow Federal Way City Council members to Eric Faison’s suggestion that the city could buy SeaTac Mall, the chance of that happening appears to be someplace between slim and none.

At a council meeting Tuesday when he formally brought up the idea, Faison’s council mates didn’t fault him. Most, however, said the city shouldn’t own the mall.

But they did agree with Faison that improvements to the mall –– which Faison believes would be easier under city ownership –– are integral to overall redevelopment of the downtown area. They directed city officials to begin studying the feasibility of a city acquisition of the mall, with heavier emphasis on prodding changes of the indoor complex to make it a more appealing and vibrant part of Federal Way’s commercial base.

Faison, who said he dicussed his proposal earlier with other council members, anticipated their cool reception to the city entering the market for the mall, which is for sale by its California-based owner, Newman Properties. But he said he only wants the city to own the mall long enough to redevelop it and then sell it again.

The city should help the mall become more of an “economic engine” for the community by working with private owners or heading the effort itself in the ”far our chance” that the city becomes the owner, Faison said.

Mayor Jeanne Burbidge said she’s “reluctant” for the city to ever be in a position of competing with private business.

Councilman Michael Hellickson said he would “vehemently” oppose any discussion of city ownership of the mall, “but we should be involved in helping it flourish.”

Other council members made similar remarks before unanimously approving a review of roles the city could play in revitalizing the mall.

The mall was put up for sale after Harry Newman, its original developer, died six months ago. His family reportedly doesn’t want to operate SeaTac Mall and several other malls he owned.

Interest in buying SeaTac Mall has surfaced among commercial companies, according to Eric Mattison, the mall’s marketing director.

Whoever buys the mall will need plenty of money –– probably more than the city could or should come up with, according to observors. Mall officials say redevelopment alone would cost $20 million to $30 million.

Although the mall has more than 100 stores and restaurants, including national retailers and major department stores, it’s perceived by many shoppers and community leaders as being outdated and lacking attractions to complement the retailers and eateries.

A movie theater at the mall closed last year.

Several council members said the burden on city officials of a mall study is another reason for their mixed feelings over Faison’s request. The city is involved to one extent or another with plans for a new city hall, a transit center and next year’s budget, Councilwoman Linda Kochnar noted.

Financing of a mall acquisition and a management structure are among issues Faison wants officials to study.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com

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