Risk vs. reward: Where does city stand on PACC? | Roegner

Against the backdrop of an election year and what to do about the performing arts and conference center (PACC), the Federal Way City Council and mayor held their annual retreat.

It is a different council than the one that met last year. Diana Noble-Gulliford and Kelly Maloney were appointed to replace Linda Kochmar and Roger Freeman, who were elected to the state Legislature.

Money and priorities are always the key topics. As with most levels of government, and our own household budget, there is never enough of the former and always too much of the latter.

One of the primary issues to discuss was what to do about the PACC. With a new council and some concern evident about the price tag of about $31 million, the goal of the meeting was to test whether there was council support for moving ahead.

Council members had several questions about financing, which is still fluid as it involves several different concepts including grants, fundraising, a capitol campaign and tax credits.

This is a fiscally conservative council and some expressed their concern about the cost, while others were worried about public reaction to pushing ahead. Even though the last city survey showed significant support for the PACC, two council members raised the issue of getting a more current reading from the public. Another council member wondered about mailing a postcard straw ballot to residents.

It’s not uncommon for elected officials to start getting a little nervous when they see the price tag they may have to vote for, particularly the new council members.

Also, Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell noted that government’s public process usually has council members voting on issues in a series of small steps that effectively decide the answer to the big question before all the facts, and political implications, are known. But that was one of the benefits of the retreat - so that everyone would know what the issues and stakes are.

The PACC is the lynchpin to downtown. A sub-issue emerged as two council members raised the question of hiring a separate person to do economic development, rather than have that duty and planning in Patrick Doherty’s portfolio. The question of additional parking for the PACC also came up, which could add to the costs.

The next critical vote for the council is to determine whether to authorize the design phase, which will cost between $600,000 and $900,000.

Mayor Skip Priest and Councilmembers Dini Duclos, Jeanne Burbidge and Bob Celski made clear their support for the overall project. Councilmembers Susan Honda, Noble-Gulliford, Maloney and Ferrell again stated their concern about the costs.

The PACC is a high level of risk-reward project. Risk? At $31 million, it would be the biggest project in city history and may be a hard sell to the public as a ballot issue.

If it were to fail, the city would still have no signature downtown economic development project to lure private development, and would owe the state $5 million plus interest.

More risk? Primarily political for the mayor and council if they don’t put it on the ballot. Reward? The best chance in a decade to actually accomplish an economic development investment in downtown that could have long-term benefits.

Risk vs reward. Caution vs. boldness. Status quo vs. leadership. My guess? The council will vote to support the design phase. And if they do, the momentum is established. Then the issue becomes the financing plan.


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