Opinion

Federal Way's economic action from 1996-2040 | Hobbs

Consider how the economy and culture have transformed since 1996.

That was before the dot-com bust, before 9/11, before the War on Terror, before two serious recessions, before the real estate bubble, and before the Internet fundamentally shifted the way we live and do business.

Even in 1996, Federal Way explored options for an economic savior like a downtown performing arts center. The city had been trying for years to build such a project, according to a 1996 report in the Seattle Times.

Fast forward to 2013. The city council has decided to move forward on a performing arts and conference center (PACC) for about $32 million. Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest is calling on the city to build “transformational” projects that “create critical mass to stimulate urban development.”

In 2013, Priest consistently references a memo he wrote in 1996. The memo regurgitates what he learned at a 1996 retreat on city design issues.

“It is equally clear to me that it is time that we seriously address the issue of the city’s image,” Priest wrote in 1996, describing the reactions to Federal Way’s then-dismal downtown. He urged city leaders to avoid “fragmented investment decisions that fail to leverage scarce resources, fail to energize the community, and instead develop a lack of public trust.”

In 1996, Priest was a city councilman who was appointed mayor for a two-year term in a mostly ceremonial position. After that, he served a few years in the Legislature. But 14 years later, in 2010, he became the city’s first elected mayor with an actual responsibility to run the government.

Consider Priest’s previous calls for economic action:

• As a candidate in October 2010, Priest was asked how he planned to create jobs in Federal Way as mayor: “You have to have a city that responds to small businesses and new businesses that are reaching out and saying we need help.” At that forum, he said revitalization of the city center is “based on a plan I created 15 years ago.”

• In September 2010, during the campaign, Priest wrote: “As mayor, I will aggressively pursue economic development opportunities using my many existing relationships with local and regional business leaders.”

• The mayor’s State of the City 2011: “The civic center discussion is about economic development,” he said, adding that the project would be a catalyst for downtown and move the city forward.

• State of the City 2012: “I believe the Crystal Palace is the type of transformative project to shift our downtown,” said Priest, confident that the developers would secure funding for the now-defunct project. “We can’t afford to be left behind in economic development. … We won’t sit on our hands and wait for something to happen.”

• State of the City 2013: “We know that if we just continue doing what we’ve been doing, we won’t realize the vision of a vibrant downtown,” he said.

Looking ahead, the State of the City 2014 could sound something like this: “The city hopes to move forward with a performing arts center. This will be a transformational project that stimulates economic development in downtown Federal Way.”

From the State of the City 2015: “Federal Way must compete on the regional stage. The time to act is now. We need to transform our vacant downtown core to a family-friendly destination, just like I called for in 1996.”

Preview of the State of the City 2040: “The Puget Sound region has grown by more than 1.7 million people since 2013. About 369,000 people, which is 22 percent of that growth, have settled in Kent, Auburn, Renton, Kirkland and Redmond. Unlike those cities, Federal Way lacked the foresight to nurture and attract high-tech and aerospace manufacturers, who supply most of the high-paying jobs in the region today. Downtown revitalization is crucial to Federal Way’s economic well-being. We must move forward on a performing arts center, which will act as a catalyst for economic development downtown. We must keep up with the times or get left behind. After all, this isn’t 1996.”


 

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