Opinion

Heartbreak hotel and the writing on the mall | Andy Hobbs

Developers for the performing arts and conference center (PACC) have suggested building a 120-room hotel. Does the city need another hotel?

The manager at Hampton Inn and Suites told The Mirror that 13,000 hotel rooms went unsold last year, with an estimated 80,000 total vacancies among the major chains in town. With 142 rooms, Hampton averages roughly 35 unsold rooms a night — about a 75 percent occupancy rate.

This aligns with the average for South King County, according to a 2012 report on the Seattle hotel market from Kidder Matthews. Those stats for the South Sound include the midpriced hotels near SeaTac Airport.

Business typically peaks in the summertime for hotels. Federal Way hotel managers also laud the swim competitions at the King County Aquatic Center. Out-of-town visitors pack the hotels and commonly ask about good places to eat while they’re in town.

Federal Way receives about $190,000 annually in hotel-motel tax revenues. High-profile events, such as Olympic diving trials and college swim championships, generate demand for hotel rooms and have a ripple effect on the local economy.

A new hotel at the PACC could snag some of the summertime and swim meet spillover, but is that enough to make it viable? As the number of hotel rooms increases in Federal Way, so does the city’s responsibility to fill them.

The writing on the mall

An interesting discussion has evolved online regarding the name of Federal Way’s mall.

This crown jewel of downtown Federal Way was formerly known as SeaTac Mall. People are aware of the correct name, The Commons at Federal Way. However, a good share of residents still call it SeaTac Mall. Why? Because that’s what they called it for years.

I have yet to hear someone get corrected for referring to The Commons as SeaTac Mall. The latter name is colloquial and acceptable in local lingo. Case closed.

Does the mall’s current name dazzle passersby or build a connection with those who shop there? The name matters little if the mall can meet the needs of customers and the community.

The current name — The Commons at Federal Way — makes more sense from a marketing standpoint, obviously because the City of SeaTac sits a few miles north.

Located smack dab in Federal Way’s economic core, the mall is Federal Way’s top privately-held destination for local and out-of-town visitors.

A long-rumored Kohl’s has stirred excitement among local shoppers and is expected to join anchor stores Macy’s, Target and Sears. A handful of chain restaurants light up the mall’s parking lot along South 320th Street.

Inside the mall is a decent movie theater with the latest releases. As for general retail, enough people must be buying cellphones, samurai swords, sunglasses, watches, T-shirts, shoes and trinkets to keep those businesses open.

The mall’s struggles have less to do with the name and more to do with competition from nicer malls in the region. For far too long, mall owner Steadfast Companies has left The Commons at Federal Way twisting in the wind.

Last month, a private investment firm that includes NBA legend Magic Johnson announced plans to pump money into The Commons. The silver lining is not the star power behind the investment, but the willingness to finally give the mall the resources to compete.

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