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Federal Way Council approves next step for PACC project in split vote

A conceptual rendering of the proposed Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) project in downtown Federal Way. - Courtesy City of Federal Way
A conceptual rendering of the proposed Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) project in downtown Federal Way.
— image credit: Courtesy City of Federal Way

In a 4-3 vote, the Federal Way City Council voted to approve the land use permit application process for the proposed Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) project in downtown Federal Way.

Council members Dini Duclos, Martin Moore, Jeanne Burbidge and Bob Celski were the yes votes, while the dissenting votes were Mayor-elect Jim Ferrell, and Council members Susan Honda and Kelly Maloney.

According to Patrick Doherty, director of Community and Economic Development for the city, this process would run the city “up to” $65,000 and would, it’s hoped, favorably position the city for federal funds from the New Market Tax Credits program.

The city stands to gain approximately $7 million from that program if the PACC is considered a worthy project by the “community development entities” (CDE’s) that receive and disburse the federal funds.

“In the design development process…the land use application is the next logical step in that process,” Doherty said to the council during its Dec. 3 meeting. “Meaning that since the schematic design plans have been produced now by the design and development team, the next step waiting to be taken is submittal of those plans for the permit.”

Doherty said the permit application process would include, in addition to those already completed schematic designs, “written narratives, an environmental checklist and technical reports.”

Doherty noted that for the New Market Tax Credits program, the completion of the permitting process would signal “a fair degree of readiness” to the CDE’s who control those funds, and would better position the city for those funds.

“It’s very important to them to understand how ready the project is,” he reiterated.

Maloney was the first to express concerns about this next step, saying there are so many “moving parts” right now that she would like the city to take a breather and really examine some of the financial issues possibly surrounding the PACC.

“I love the idea, I really do love the idea of a performing arts center. I do want us to slow down and look at what is really feasible, what is really viable in our city,” she said. “I think we can be creative and put our hats on and figure out other ways we can pay for this that doesn’t have to be city funding.”

Ferrell called this move “premature,” citing concerns about the initial pro forma financial figures on operating costs, and also expressing concerns about police staffing levels in the city while this project is pursued. He shared an anecdotal story about his brother and related it to how he feels the council is treating the PACC project so far.

“I remember as a boy, watching my brother Phil on a hot July day, pour some concrete. He was working on it and working on it, and the sun was hot and he didn’t quite have a plan, and he was pouring the concrete and the hot sun set on him. His plan was not correct, and I don’t think I’ve seen my brother that mad in my life. Because what he realized at that point is that all this concrete he had spent hours and hours pouring, he was going to have to jackhammer out. And he loves to say, ‘Pouring concrete can be a monument to your ignorance forever if you don’t know what you’re doing.’ We’re getting close to pouring some concrete. We better know what we’re doing.”

Duclos, who oversaw the development of low-income housing while with the Multi-Service Center, said fears over this step are unfounded and that this is just part of the process.

“I had to determine whether a project was a go or no-go, and you had to do certain things to get to that stage, which meant you had to put some money out to begin with,” she said. “And I did. And that’s why you do that so you can begin to see what some of your problems are as you’re starting to develop your real design…We took care of the problems, and that’s what we’re trying to do right here, is take care of these problems by moving one step forward.”

“The city has spent more money on other things that have never gone anywhere,” she added.

For Burbidge, the PACC feels similar to other projects the city took on, like Celebration Park and the Community Center, which initially met resistance but became valued community assets.

“We look at Celebration Park, that was very controversial when the property was purchased and developed. There were people who were worried it might not succeed. Now look at it,” she said. “We have our Community Center, that up until a few years ago, we were more concerned with the…subsidy that the city had to provide. We’ve reduced that by more than half, and it now has a thousand users a day. It is definitely a success.”

New council member Moore said he voted yes on taking this next step because it’s needed to try and secure a brighter future for Federal Way.

“When I was first adopted from Bulgaria, I remember coming to this city, I remember what it looked like, and sitting here today, at 29 years old, the city hasn’t changed, not one bit, except cosmetic changes,” he said. “I think we have an obligation to the future generations that we build a brighter future for them…This opens the door to future funding, and I think for us to keep shutting the door says to all groups, ‘We’re not going to allow you to move forward.’ We need to give them the chance to perform.”

Doherty said that the permit application process would take three to five months, and hopefully be done sometime in spring of next year, around April or May. To learn more about the PACC, visit www.cityoffederalway.com/pacc.

 

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