Cost of new downtown Federal Way park draws concerns

Town Square Park will be located at the former AMC Theater site, pictured above. The park will feature a large grass area, a full basketball court and two half courts, a labyrinth and space for a Christmas tree for annual lightings.  - Courtesy City of Federal Way
Town Square Park will be located at the former AMC Theater site, pictured above. The park will feature a large grass area, a full basketball court and two half courts, a labyrinth and space for a Christmas tree for annual lightings.
— image credit: Courtesy City of Federal Way

The Federal Way City Council unanimously approved a Town Square Park at its May 20 meeting, marking the city’s first noticeable action in Federal Way’s decayed downtown core.

The project — which will take up four acres of the former AMC Theater site and is hoped will act as a catalyst to spur private development in that part of the city — was approved for approximately $267,000, with a 10 percent contingency with Henderson Partners of Gig Harbor.

The approved cost is the third price tag the city has placed on the project since April, nearly doubling the cost of the project.

Earlier discussions of the project noted an initial budget of approximately $140,000. The Council then approved moving forward on the project during the April 1 meeting, setting the total cost for the project at a level “not to exceed $200,000.”

Councilwoman Kelly Maloney asked during the May 20 meeting why it seemed the costs had shot up so quickly in such a short time. Ken Miller, interim parks director, said a number of factors contributed to the near doubling of the original budget to the one that was approved at the May 20 meeting.

“I think generally, there’s three major areas here,” Miller said. “The slurry seal of the parking lot, the grass area with the irrigation, the pea patch and the picnic benches, and then the labyrinths and those areas. I think when we estimated, we were just a little low and I think also costs are starting to come up from when we first started looking at it. This is not an overly complicated project, but it has several different areas. It isn’t just one contract, you’ve got several different contracts … It’s almost like a third, a third, a third. They’ll have several subcontractors.”

Chris Carrel, the city’s communication and government affairs coordinator, said the $267,000 for the permanent park is coming from the city’s City Center Redevelopment Fund, which the Council created in 2005 solely for downtown development. The fund is sourced from Real Estate Excise Taxes. Currently, there is $2.4 million in that fund, Carrel noted.

He said that since the site was originally planned for a park and mixed-use development, the city could modify two acres of the park in the future if a private developer invests in the park.

The initial design by Nakano Associates, the landscape architecture firm the city hired, was mostly approved at the May 20 meeting. The design will include a large grass area and pea patch area, along with a full basketball and two half basketball courts.

There is also a labyrinth design that will be painted on some of the remaining concrete areas, along with a designated space for a Christmas tree. At the April 1 meeting, the Council discussed the irrigation system and slurry seal of the parking lot. According to Ida Ottesen of Nakano Associates, at the time, the irrigation system was an additional $16,000. Specifics on the cost of slurry seal weren’t discussed at the April meeting.

“The slurry seal was one we added as an ‘add alternate,’” Ottesen said at the time. “We’re not showing irrigation as part of this $140,000 of this budget, that’s another ‘add alternate’ because the irrigation would be another approximately $16,000 … We’re going to have to compromise a little bit, I guess I’m trying to say.”

Miller, at the May 20 meeting, discussed the reasoning behind adding the irrigation system for the grass area/pea patch/Christmas tree elements.

“We decided that this grass area really had to be irrigated. I think that was part of the discussion at one of the meetings, that it really needed to be irrigated,” he said.

Miller added that part of the project will include putting a two-inch water line through the parts of the park that will need it, and a two-inch conduit for electricity.

“The irrigation is going to be easier to do than the power, it’s something our parks crew can adequately do,” he added.

In a separate phone interview, Miller reiterated that the irrigation and slurry seal components pushed the costs up, while adding that some of the project’s additional amenities also contributed.

“We wanted to make it pop with a lot of color, we went with a lot of colors for the basketball and the labyrinth … When it kind of got down into the details, the costs went up. The added colors, and irrigation and increasing the grass area more [contributed to the increase.] We added some odds and ends and other things as we went along,” he said. “What [the Council] wanted was something people could be proud of. They didn’t want to do a cheap park, they wanted a decent park.”

Miller added that the regional market for construction/development has been on an uptick of late too, which likely added to the increased costs. The interim parks director also noted the city and Council are feeling the need to show something coming from the numerous discussions about the downtown core in recent years.

“I think when things haven’t happened in six or seven years, they wanted their vision of the site as a gathering place, where the Farmers Market could go, the community could go, [to become a reality],” he said.

The Council shared the same sentiment during the May 20 meeting. Councilman Bob Celski said the park project could be a “priming of the pump” for the downtown area, while Councilwoman Dini Duclos said this park was “the first step of trying do something for our downtown,” and that she was “very excited about that.”

Mayor Jim Ferrell said the new park marks a historic moment for Federal Way.

“For the first time in our city’s history, we will have a park in our downtown, a place to drive to, not just drive through,” he wrote in an email. “It will be a place where we can gather as a community, a place for families to play, and a park we can all be proud of.”


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