Opinion

Are downtown Federal Way projects doable? | Bob Roegner

The future of downtown Federal Way, and how to improve it, has been a topic of community interest for more than a decade. We have been teased with many drawings and concepts, but so far, not much action.

Remember the U-Village idea? Or more recently, the Twin Towers?

The most promising option on the horizon appears to be the performing arts and civic center (PACC) concept, which would include a hotel and restaurant or catering facilities. The state has chipped in with financial support, and the project keeps moving steadily ahead.

Recently, the Federal Way City Council reviewed a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) proposal by Mayor Skip Priest and his staff that would seek to establish a public-private partnership to construct the facility at the old Toys R Us site on 20th Avenue South.

The city is seeking a private sector partner, in this unusual time of economic uncertainty, because of the potential $25 million price tag. They anticipate receiving proposals by mid-June. Despite some early controversy, and the ongoing concern about operational costs, city leaders have continued to push the project forward as an important signature structure to revitalize the city center.

The city council seems generally supportive of the mayor’s RFQ proposal.

However, there are some reservations with the marketing approach that seems to use the proposed nearby Crystal Palace project as a lure to attract interest in developing the PACC.

The Crystal Palace concept, which was the brainchild of ARCADD Inc. from Boston, is an eye-catching structure that would incorporate mixed-use development in the city center.

ARCADD may have its own challenges. The developer was supposed to have $150,000 to the city by the end of January and didn’t meet that schedule.

In a $300 million project, that amount of money should be small change for a serious investor. ARCADD hasn’t disclosed who the financial backer is, causing more anxiety.

At the Mayor-Council Retreat in late January, the city’s economic development director reported that the money had not been received. The director was vague about expectations, although he was hoping for the money by Feb. 15. The uncertainty regarding ARCADD was underscored by the fact that the city staff had drawings of other possible uses for the property readily available.

The importance of these two projects to downtown and their potential “transformative” nature was a highlight of Mayor Skip Priest’s state of the city address in early March, where he appeared confident that ARCADD would secure the money.

The mayor and city council continue to support the PACC, but some council members are questioning whether the draft RFQ is misleading in its use of the Crystal Palace project as an enticement for future partners for the PACC.

The draft language regarding the Crystal Palace said “proponents are readying their proposal for presentation to the city council for acceptance, which will likely include prompt purchase of the site and subsequent commencement.” The package also included pictures of the Crystal Palace.

Since no money has been received, and two dates have been missed, some council members have been losing confidence in the project for some time.

At the council study session last week, council members Jim Ferrell and Dini Duclos questioned the accuracy of the language and requested it be revised, which Mayor Priest and staff agreed to, prior to the next council meeting.

How will the city market the public-private partnership opportunities to construct the PACC? With the Crystal Palace, which may not come to fruition? Or without, which may make the package less appealing?

The council seems concerned that any potential partner in the PACC is going to want clear and compelling evidence that the Crystal Palace project has the financial backing — something that isn’t apparent now.

And given a declining confidence in the Crystal Palace project by some council members, is the city administration being overly optimistic that the two projects can be built? Is intertwining the two projects creating a potential house of cards?

Most members of the community likely support both projects, want them to succeed and hope the city is on the right track. But more questions remain.

What happens if the Crystal Palace project falls through? How would that affect the PACC?

And what happens to the PACC if no viable partners step forward?

And then, what happens to downtown?

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