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PACC: Public weighs pros and cons of proposed project

The proposed Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) is expected to cost close to $32 million and would be the most expensive public project in Federal Way history. The project is slated for the abandoned Toys R
The proposed Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) is expected to cost close to $32 million and would be the most expensive public project in Federal Way history. The project is slated for the abandoned Toys R' Us site on 20th Avenue South near the Federal Way Transit Center.
— image credit: Courtesy image

The Federal Way City Council held a special meeting on Sept. 5 to review the proposed Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) and the project's progress to this point. The meeting also allowed for an informal public comment session after presentations by city staff and members of the development team from Lorax Partners and LMN Architects.

For those members of the public present, a variety of concerns — from those both for and against the PACC — were raised. Concerns ranging from culture to parking to the proposed project's costs were expressed by those who took to the podium.

Federal Way resident H. David Kaplan said he was wholeheartedly in favor of the PACC, believing it could be the economic catalyst that many who support the project have touted it to be in recent months and years.

"The breadth of activities that could be held at such a facility extends beyond the basic needs of the city itself," he said. "For example, the Lynnwood convention center is currently holding a week-long bridge tournament attended by people from all over the country. I know of Federal Way people who are staying there for the entire week, eating in (Lynnwood's) restaurants, and shopping in (Lynnwood's) stores."

Kaplan also said he feels the PACC would be a boon to Federal Way's school-age children.

"It's an enormous opportunity, with this facility, for school children to congregate for educational activities connected to the theater space. This could be a multi-generational, multi-faceted benefit for the long-term future of the city."

Federal Way resident Byron Hiller said his concerns mostly focus on running the facility.

"I don't fear building the facility, I fear running it. The facility management, I don't think it's reflected in the numbers," he said, referencing a pro forma budget outline provided to the council and those present at the Sept. 5 meeting. "Either the numbers are dumbed down, or they're missing key elements…If you were to get this facility built, it'd be a great thing for Federal Way, but…operating it (is) going to be a little more of a challenge. Let's look at our Federal Way Community Center as one example of that."

Councilmember Dini Duclos agreed with Hiller's assessment of the projected maintenance and operation costs of the facility. Duclos said it seems much of the information is derived from a report from Webb Management that was done a number of years ago.

"I saw we had a lot of information in here from the Webb report, which is now, to me, dated. Even though we have had a recession, I still think those numbers need to be re-looked at," Duclos noted.

Federal Way resident Norma Blanchard, one of the more vocal opponents of the project, again raised the question why this project isn't being put to a vote of Federal Way citizens.

"I have a survey that was sent out in 2008, which they based building the performing arts center on," Blanchard said, "and it was figured out that 562 answered this survey, and 62 percent (of those who said yes) of that is 348. And that comes out 348 divided by 88,000 which comes out to .00394 percent of the total city residents. Are we going to be allowed to vote on this thing? The full city? Is it going to be put up for a vote? Or is it a done deal and you're going to build it without the whole city having a say?"

Mayor Skip Priest fielded Blanchard's question. Priest said one reason why the issue has not been put on the ballot is because of the council's intent to not seek traditional methods for funding large public works, like Federal Way Public Schools did last year with its levy to rebuild Federal Way High School.

Along with this, Priest also said citizens still have power over the process when it comes to voting for the council.

"To some extent, there's always a vote, Ms. Blanchard," he said. "It's called electing city council members. And as a result of that, at least up until now, because there were going to be no additional funds needed from the taxpayers, because of other devices, that has not been an issue that's been raised."

Federal Way resident Paul Levy said he was concerned about the project initially, but research and talking with Patrick Doherty, the city's director of economic and community development, allayed his fears about the project.

Now, Levy said, he feels the PACC would be a boon to the culture of Federal Way.

"It occurred to me that we have an obligation to do this project," Levy said. "Over the years, I've noticed a terrible coarsening of culture in this country. It's a horrible thing. It's an erosion, an erosion of our souls, and culture feeds our souls. Can we afford to not do that?"

Julie Vance was the first commenter to express concerns about possible ticket prices at the PACC if the project were to be approved and constructed.

"In Seattle, right now, I can't afford to go down there. I'm a senior citizen on a limited income. It's an all-day venture for me to go down there and pay for parking, to have a dinner out and to see a performance. I can't afford it. I cannot afford to take my grandchildren. Most of the sports down there, any event, a family of three to five cannot afford to go. I would hope that would not happen here in Federal Way. We have a diversity of people that live here from low income on up to rich, and I would like to see all people, no matter what their income, to be able to enjoy coming here (to the PACC)," she said.

"The issue of ticket costs is a very real one, and I think it's a good one, and I think we can have some further discussion on that," Priest said in response to Vance's concerns. "Affordability is obviously an important issue."

Lynda Jenkins, a 51-year resident of Federal Way, said she thinks the PACC would be out of place in Federal Way's blue-collar environment.

"I look around Federal Way, I walk around picking up beer cans. I see a lot of trashy places, really trashy. And places that are vacant, that don't have a lot of business," she said. "And yet, we have people wanting this now for everybody. I don't think everybody wants this….I just don't think you're going to fill it up with the average person. I don't think they want it, I don't think they care about it. How many people are here? Is this representative of the average citizen(s) of Federal Way? I don't think so."

Jim Burbidge, husband of Federal Way City Councilmember Jeanne Burbidge, said he's fully in support of the PACC, but is concerned that local performing arts groups might be left in the cold, given some of the preliminary numbers being circulated.

"One of my concerns is that this performing arts facility remain economically viable for the performing arts groups in our community," he said. "I see the total revenue for the theater rental is $147,750 for a year, the first year. I belong to the Federal Way Chorale. How much is it going to cost the Federal Way Chorale to have two concerts in there in the fall and in the spring? How much is it going to cost for the symphony to have a concert there?"

Arts commission member Carrol Clemens said she thinks many people have been looking into the future in the wrong way when it comes to the PACC.

"Much has been said about the PACC being a burden on taxpayers. But not enough has been said about the tax revenues that events held there would generate," she said. "For example, the Aquatic Center generated several million dollars in sales tax revenue when they had the Olympic diving trials there. It's a facility that attracts people, and they spend their money here. Celebration Park has baseball tournaments that fill our hotels and restaurants all summer long…Events booked into the PACC would bring more tax revenue year round, and the citizenry would have the privilege of using it and enjoying it because of these events being held there."

FYI

The PACC has an estimated price tag in the vicinity of $31 million to $32 million. While no formal action has been taken to agree to the project to start in earnest, the next step in the process would be a land use permitting process, according to information shared by Doherty and PJ Santos of Lorax Partners earlier in the evening. For more information on the project, visit www.federalwaypacc.org.

 

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