High-rise buildings in Federal Way's core?


The Mirror

The city hopes to transform downtown, and on June 28, it got some advice from someone who knows a thing or two about creating a city center.

Bellevue Square Mall CEO and owner Kemper Freeman Jr. discussed Federal Way’s potential as a retail hub during a redevelopment forum sponsored by the city and the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce.

Freeman repeatedly said having a strong retail core acts as a catalyst to jump start city centers.

“If you get the retail right, that will set the tone for the other things,” he said.

Freeman pointed to past examples including Tacoma.

In his grandfather’s time, he said, downtown Tacoma was a stronger city center than Seattle. The opening of the Tacoma Mall, he said, started drawing people away from the downtown core.

He also pointed to his own experiences developing Bellevue Square Mall and Bellevue Place. The mall, he said, has helped drive up the assessed value of neighboring properties.

In his assessment of the city, Freeman said there was strong potential given the amount of retail business present in the city.

“One thing you’ve got is retail,” he said. “You’ve got what a lot of people would love to have.”

Marketing documents provided at the meeting highlight the city’s intent to move away from the current, single-story stores and large expanses of parking lots, to a higher-density, multiple-use and multiple-story format.

The city presented concepts at the forum of the developments they hope to see in the downtown area.

Using the area along South 320th Street and 23rd Avenue South, where SeaTac Village is currently located, as an example, the city showcased a multiple-use, multiple-story development.

The concept included four-story residential loft and apartment buildings with retail on the ground floor, multiple-story office buildings and plazas with outdoor dining areas and fountains.

“The time is ripe,” Freeman said. “The stage is set. All you got to do is do it.”

Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty pointed to Kent’s new venture, known as Kent Station, as a example of what could become of downtown Federal Way.

According to Kent’s Web site, the $100 million, 470,000 square-foot project includes retail, entertainment and residential uses.

Doherty said the goal for the downtown area is to focus on boutique-type stores and entertainment, leaving the so-called “big box” stores such as Home Depot and Costco for the southern end of the city.

While he said he agrees with Freeman’s statements regarding the importance of retail, Doherty also said the retail environment needs to create a sense of place, with people-oriented attractions.

The city, he said, would not focus solely on attracting retail while leaving hotels, offices and residences for later.

“We believe it’s important to try to bring along the other uses in tandem,” he said.

Council to discuss

height limits

Doherty also discussed the release of a City Center Planned Action Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The document, released on June 26, examines 10 years worth of effects possible if the city designates a portion of the city center as a planned action area.

The area examined by the Draft EIS is surrounded by South 312th Street to the north, South 324th Street to the south, Pacific Highway South to the west and 23rd Avenue South to the east.

Doherty told those attending the forum that the city council may soon discuss raising building height limits for multiple-unit housing structures in the city center in an attempt to create more incentives for development.

The Draft EIS outlines options the council may be considering, including:

• Raising the height limit for multiple-unit housing to 200 feet and focusing most of the mixed-use urban growth along South 320th Street; and

• Raising the height limit to 145 feet and more evenly spreading growth throughout the area examined by the Draft EIS.

Doherty said commercial building height limits in the area are already 145 feet, but current codes don’t allow for multiple-unit housing to reach the same height.

Once the Final EIS document is completed later this summer, Doherty said, the council could begin discussing height limit options.

Despite pending discussions about building heights, Doherty said residents should not expect high-rise buildings to sprout up all over the city center.

“I doubt we’ll see a forest of 20-story buildings in our lifetime, but one or two might on the horizon over the next decade or so,” he said.

The city also announced a public meeting where residents can discuss the Draft EIS and the height limit proposals.

The public meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. July 13 at City Hall.

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