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Council approves schematic designs for PACC in 6-1 vote
The Federal Way City Council voted 6-1 to approve moving forward with a schematic design for the proposed performing arts and conference center (PACC).
Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell was the only dissenting vote.
As part of what was approved at the March 19 meeting, the city will spend up to $355,000 of Real Estate Excise Tax funds to get the schematic designs made. Also included is the caveat that Lorax Partners, the development group the city has partnered with, will bring any cost saving opportunities to the council over the course of the next several months.
The PACC would be the most expensive public project in Federal Way history.
While other council members expressed reservations about the PACC and its anticipated price tag of approximately $32 million, Ferrell said his dissenting vote came from that consideration — and a number of others.
"What happens if we don't get that money?" Ferrell asked, referencing $2 million to $5 million in state grant funds the city is trying to acquire for the project. "I understand the idea of having vision and moving forward. I do think there's a number of things out there that may not come to fruition."
Another major concern for Ferrell is the fact that there's been very little discussion on how the PACC would be run once it's built. Citing the city's experience with the Community Center, the deputy mayor said he's troubled by the potential of the PACC's maintenance and operation costs.
"It's been estimated to be about a $200,000 subsidy that we'll have to make," Ferrell said. "I'm very concerned about the M&O costs, or the ongoing costs, the soft costs if you will, that obviously are going to be a major issue."
Ferrell said some of the local hotel owners have expressed concerns about another hotel being put in the downtown core area, and whether the PACC will act as the "economic engine" the city hopes it could be in the future.
Another issue Ferrell said he's uncomfortable with is the fact that the PACC has been presented in a "do or die" fashion so far. He said he thinks there are a multitude of ways the downtown core could be revitalized.
"I would have to look people in the eye and explain to voters why I have voted to invest their money in a project that I'm not convinced, in my heart of hearts, is the right thing for the city," Ferrell said, referencing a letter from a citizen who had indicated the council would need to provide an explanation to the community if they didn't move forward on the project.
Councilmember Susan Honda reiterated her concerns about the cost as well, and echoed Ferrell's thoughts on whether the PACC should be the "be all, end all" project for the downtown core.
"I remain concerned about the cost," she said. "I don't want to stop working on the entire downtown. This is one lot…I don't see a downtown that's dying, I see a downtown that has a lot of opportunity. It's an opportunity that not a lot of cities have, to develop a downtown area. It's an amazing opportunity."
Honda also expressed her desire for the city to hold community forums in the upcoming months and years, as the PACC project continues to move forward, a sentiment shared by fellow Councilmember Kelly Maloney.
"I want to echo Councilmember Honda's request, that if we move forward, to hear more from the citizens and business owners," she said. "Community forums, maybe statistically valid surveys."
Maloney also reiterated her desire from the council's March 9 retreat that raising taxes should not be an option for this project.
"I know it's not on the table right now, but sometimes when you get so far in a project, you can say, 'Well, we've gotten this far, so let's raise taxes,'" she said. "I do not support that."
Councilmember Jeanne Burbidge expressed her continued support of the overall project, saying that now is the time to act on this long-running promise of downtown revitalization for Federal Way.
"If we are not willing to commit, as a city, to take the needed steps, we cannot expect private interests to invest (in our city) in a significant way," she said. "Not moving ahead is the biggest risk of all, and I would add, there are those who say, 'We cannot afford to do this.' I would say, we cannot afford not to."
• In 2010, the city bought the 4-acre site on 20th Avenue South with a state grant worth $5 million. As a condition, the PACC must be built within 10 years, or the city must pay back the money with interest.
• Seattle-based developer Lorax Partners estimates that a 700-seat arts center with a 3,000-square-foot conference space could cost about $31.7 million. Preliminary designs include green landscapes and up to 170 parking spots, along with an option to build a hotel.
• The city reports the "total cost of the schematic design development is $950,000, with the balance coming from previously approved design funding and existing grants."
• The completed project may require a city subsidy of up to $200,000 a year.
The Mirror recently posted the following reports on the PACC: