News

Another downtown market study, but what comes after?

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

The Federal Way City Council has agreed to hire two firms to conduct a lifestyle market study downtown to see what kind of retail the city could support and how much work would have to be done to create a town square or University Village-type area downtown.

While the decision to hire the groups passed by a clear majority, some on the council voiced concerns about what the council will do once there are final recommendations.

"We don't know what will be the outcome of the study," Councilman Mike Park said. "The council hasn't built consensus on implementation issues. The council needs to discuss this more and be very careful on hiring consultants."

The city's Finance, Economic Development and Regional Affairs Committee last week unanimously recommended hiring Leland Consulting Group, which focuses on market analysis, redevelopment strategies, fiscal analysis and economic development, and RTKL Associates Inc. (planning, urban design and architecture) to conduct the market study.

The study will see if Federal Way could support higher-end retailers, like Crate and Barrel and Coldwater Creek, and will suggest ways to attract them.

City officials reallocated $55,000 set aside in 1998 for electronic informational kiosks downtown –– an idea that never got off the ground –– to pay for the study.

Lifestyle centers are generally pedestrian walkways between attractive shops, cafes and restaurants, booksellers and supermarkets, all with sidewalk entrances and some with condominiums or apartments above. Many have natural elements, like a town square or a park in the center.

The city hired a consultant to conduct a market study in 2000 that focused on how fast the city was growing, what kind of development was happening and how much land was needed to support the growth. This newly commissioned market study will focus more closely on whether the city has the market and demand to attract specific types of retail, according to officials.

The finance committee particularly liked the Leland group's proposal because it included later work to implement the recommendations after the study is finished.

But some council members said that without a sense of what to do to accomplish goals, they might run into trouble once the recommendations are made.

Councilman Jack Dovey sided with Park, saying he "has a good point. The study will be done, and then it's going to be before the council. What are we going to do with it? I don't think there's anyone opposed to doing the study. But I for one am not sure what the next step is. The question isn't about having a study, because we are. The question is what do we do?"

Councilman Eric Faison, chairman of the finance committee that made the recommendation, said the council will work through the process once it hears some of Leland's recommendations.

"The study is partially to look at lifestyle downtown, but it's also to look at the market downtown and to see what business we could draw," he said. "And part of the study will be working with us to do what's necessary to achieve what's stated in the comprehensive plan."

Faison said there could be a broad range of plans, from simply contacting retailers to make them aware of the study's findings to spending money to purchase or redevelop land downtown.

"Leland is capable of working with us beyond the study so it doesn't sit on a shelf," Faison said.

Councilman Jim Ferrell, also a member of the finance committee, said he's supportive of the study.

"I'm not one to spend money frivolously, but I don't believe there's anything more important to the future of this city than this study," he said. "The consequence of our failure to act could be grave for our community."

Councilwoman Jeanne Burbidge it's "an important decision to make for the future of downtown, and it's an appropriate time to make the decision. The need for us to focus on our city center has been apparent for some time."

Still, Park voted against the study with Dovey. Park said he agreed with the issues of the city center but, for him, it was a timing issue.

"If Leland recommends a next step, but the council's not able to come to a consensus, the study will end up on a shelf," he said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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