Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell announced several new changes for the city during his state of the city address on Wednesday.
These changes include the city’s first downtown park, a new economic development director, new code enforcement officer and enforcement system, additional police officers and changes to police vehicles that will significantly strengthen the police department’s ability to recover stolen vehicles.
But Ferrell’s most powerful message to the packed room at the Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club came at the end of his speech, which was met with a standing ovation.
“Ladies and gentleman of the jury … sorry, old habits die hard,” the former prosecuting attorney joked, adding, “I can say — beyond a reasonable doubt — the state of our city is strong.”
During his speech, Ferrell stood beside a large square-shaped object that was covered with a black cloth. But before he unveiled what it was, he spoke about his accomplishments so far during his first three months as mayor and what big changes residents can expect in the coming months.
Ferrell said while he is not quite leading the city like his hair’s on fire, he joked, he is leading Federal Way with a sense of purpose and urgency.
“The job of mayor is not just managing the city; it’s leading us towards the future,” Ferrell said. “If we want the Federal Way of the future to match our dreams of a thriving economy, with great quality of life, a place that businesses and families dream of moving to, then we have to build that future.”
Federal Way will rise on what Ferrell referred to as the “power of now.” This means recognizing the opportunities facing the city, that the time for action is ripe and turning opportunity into results, he said.
“Federal Way will be a city in which the economic recovery takes full root and takes off, we’ll actively recruit new businesses and retain existing businesses, we’ll stimulate an economic renaissance in the downtown that transforms the core of our city, we will devote the same energy to supporting our neighborhoods as we do on supporting business development,” Ferrell noted.
For the past three months, he has spearheaded programs to bring city government and the community together. This includes the Neighborhood Connections program that brings City Hall out into the neighborhoods. The city’s first meeting was held in February at Brigadoon Elementary, where more than 110 residents joined the mayor and Council to discuss issues important to them.
And while he said the city has had fun engaging the public, they’ve also been energetic in engaging serious policy issues.
“There is no issue needing the power of now than the Performing Arts and Conference Center,” Ferrell said, noting he hopes the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel that he created will “move the PACC to a decision point this summer so that our downtown development can advance, one way or another.”
The panel, which consists of nine local experts in financial, retail, operations and other related areas, is currently assessing the financial plans for building and operating the PACC. They will report their findings to the Council on May 8.
Ferrell also discussed some new changes for the city, including the Town Square Park that is being built on the former AMC movie theater, or Town Square, site.
The city is building the park for approximately $200,000 from its parks improvement funds.
“The Town Square Park will send an important signal to private capital that our visions for downtown are starting to materialize,” he said, noting the park will open the weekend of July 4. “This park will provide an answer to the question: where is our downtown?”
After weathering the impact of the Great Recession, Federal Way is on the rebound, Ferrell said.
Children’s Hospital announced they will be opening a South Sound Clinic in Federal Way — a $15 million investment. The clinic will employ up to 70 employees and generate approximately 26,000 visits per year.
The Children’s clinic, together with St. Francis and their physician partners, and new healthcare businesses, such as DaVita, are positioning the city “as a magnet for growth in the healthcare sector and a beacon of high-quality medical services” for families, he said.
At The Commons, a $27 million redevelopment is “bearing fruit” with the recent opening of Kohl’s department store and a second mall anchor, Dick’s Sporting Goods, is under construction.
He noted that permit applications have increased across residential and commercial projects in the past year. The value of 2013 project applications is more than $136 million — a 75 percent increase over 2012, he said.
With a strengthening economy, the city is adding the new position of economic development director. The new director will seek new and innovative ways to compete regionally and nationally for new businesses, Ferrell said. The economic development director will reach out to local businesses and seek their input on the needs of the city’s economy.
“We will link arms with our business community to strengthen our economy, forming a business development panel of local experts to provide guidance on business issues,” he said. “They will be our economic development dream team.”
The city is also making changes in the area of public safety.
In addition to a new downtown police substation that will open next month across the street from the Transit Center, the city will also be changing the look of police vehicles to increase the visibility of its police force.
“Beginning in June, you’ll begin seeing black and white vehicles replacing the older color, navy blue cars and SUVs,” he said.
The new black and white vehicles will be phased in as existing vehicles are replaced, with 12 of the 60 vehicles in place this year.
The city will also triple the Federal Way Police Department’s capacity of its high-tech license plate readers to locate and recover stolen vehicles. These Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) scan vehicle licenses and search for matches with vehicles that have been reported stolen.
An officer manually checking plates can recover three to four stolen autos per year, whereas an officer driving an ALPR-equipped patrol car can average between 50-75 stolen recoveries per year, Ferrell noted.
“With the ALPRs, if a stolen vehicle passes our officer on 320th, for instance, they’ll get an almost instantaneous alert that the vehicle is stolen. Boom, on go the lights and siren and that auto thief will be facing hard time,” he said. “I spent two years on the auto theft task force and let me tell you, word of mouth is a big thing with these criminals and word will get out: if you’re an auto thief or you’re driving a stolen vehicle, stay out of Federal Way.”
He said 2013 crime statistics shows an overall crime reduction of about 1 percent compared to the previous year. But Ferrell said the city will “never be satisfied” with any statistic.
As the city enters its 2015/2016 biennial budget discussions this fall, he will propose to the Council to increase the number of police officer positions by four to six officers. If the Council approves these positions, the new officers will be placed in uniform specialty assignments, such as the Special Investigations Unit and Traffic.
“This will enable us to have a greater impact on auto theft, human trafficking, gang activity and reducing illegal drugs,” Ferrell said. “The increase in traffic unit officers will enable us to respond more quickly to peak hour accidents, as well as neighborhood complaints about speeding vehicles.”
The city will also strengthen its code enforcement program to protect neighborhoods from decline.
“Federal Way’s neighborhoods are the backbone of this community,” he noted. “We must keep foreclosures and problem properties from dragging down property values and quality of life.”
He said calls to the city’s code enforcement hotline have grown fivefold since 2008, from 174 to a projected 1,000 calls this year.
The workload of the city’s two code enforcement officers has significantly increased.
But the city’s complaint-driven code enforcement system is also a challenge, as it “pits neighbor against neighbor,” Ferrell noted.
“That means that a problem property doesn’t get on our radar unless a resident complains,” he said. “This has led to an incomplete knowledge of where the problem properties and foreclosures are.”
The city’s new approach will rely on code enforcement staff to identify distressed properties and work to address them quickly and consistently, he said. The city will also hire an additional code enforcement officer to deal with the increased volume of complaints.
He said the three officers will work to address the current backlog of complaints, while performing a sector-by-sector review of the city. This will enable a “triage approach,” addressing the most serious problems first.
“This is not a case of the lawn not getting mowed last week,” Ferrell noted. “These are serious violations of city code — junked vehicles, un-permitted structures, garbage in the yard — the problems that damage property values and threaten entire neighborhoods.”
He said while the city and community organizations, such as the homeowners associations, will need to provide a hand up to help those property owners facing legitimate challenges, “we cannot stand by and allow willful violation of city ordinances to drag down the value of the homes of hardworking, responsible residents.”
Ferrell said as Federal Way moves forward, residents should not lose sight of the city’s roots.
The city recently acquired the five-acre Brooklake Community Center property, which he referred to as one of the most important remaining historical sites in Federal Way. The property, which sits on the southeast corner of the West Hylebos Wetlands Park, was donated to the city through the efforts of Wendell Kueker of the Brooklake Community Center.
The historical building on the site was built in the 1920s as the Wagon Wheel restaurant, which, over time, became a speakeasy, a brothel and for the last seven decades the community center. Brooklake was also the site of the city’s first water district, sewer district, community club and library.
Ferrell said the city will work with the Historical Society of Federal Way, Friends of the Hylebos, the Federal Way school district and other organizations on the future uses of Brooklake. The city will also preserve the building and seek historical register status.
In addition, he said the city will likely want to extend the West Hylebos Wetlands boardwalk to connect the 120-acre park with Brooklake and Blueberry Farm. The city will also explore environmental science and historical learning activities with the school district and a Hylebos interpretive center.
During the event, Ferrell asked King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, who has done work over the years with the Hylebos, and Deputy Mayor Jeanne Burbidge to help him unveil a mystery artifact — a 1940s-era painting depicting a logging scene from the 1890s in Federal Way.
He said while the city was working with Kueker on the property acquisition, he told Ferrell about the old painting that was hidden behind a wall downstairs. When the property documents were signed, Ferrell and Kueker went back to recover the painting.
“As we blaze a path to the future, it’s vital that we look back on our history as a guidepost,” Ferrell said. “In doing so, we’ll see that our past is rich, and our future is on the rise. The small communities that began at Brooklake, the Harding School, Star Lake, Stones Landing and Redondo have coalesced and grown into the 10th-largest city in the state. And today, we are moving Federal Way to new heights.”
Police Chief Andy Hwang looks on as Mayor Jim Ferrell speaks about changes coming to the city, including some that will affect the Federal Way Police Department.
Mayor Jim Ferrell (left), Deputy Mayor Jeanne Burbidge (right) and King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer unveil a photo that depicts a logging scene from the 1890s in Federal Way during a Federal Way Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday.