Federal Way needs to reinvent itself

The end of the year is about saying goodbye to what happened, good or bad, and welcoming the potential that comes with a new beginning. First, it is important to say thank you and wish two stalwart Federal Way City Council members a fond farewell.

Bob Celski is not returning by choice of the electorate, and Jeanne Burbidge chose not to run for a sixth term. Both have served this community well, and their wisdom, common sense and gentle guidance will be missed as City Hall opens a new chapter.

With the tick of midnight, another interesting year begins, mostly because of the political scene in Washington, D.C. Their dysfunction — political, ideological and moral — combined with factional tribalism is tearing at the fabric of what it means to be a democracy and an American. The present culture and economic class war is affecting everyone.

An economic downturn is a possibility in everyone’s future, but its arrival is undetermined. For the moment, the stock markets are at record highs as a result of policies initiated by President Obama in 2009. The ongoing market growth is partially due to speculative Trumpism policies, combined with promises of greater prosperity, corporate stock buy-backs, selective deregulation and misleading media rhetoric laced with kernels of truth.

What goes on in D.C. has global as well as local impacts. Federal Way has some strategic challenges that need to be understood. Those challenges will be exacerbated by the policies of the current administration continuing on its current path. Funds, once available to states and local governments for schools, infrastructure and social programs, are at risk of drying up.

Politics often is a zero-sum game. The current winners exemplify this belief as they exercise their will to change the rules. As difficult as 2017 was in ways not previously experienced, it set the stage for 2018 to provide more of the same. So, what are the tools and ideas needed for Federal Way to navigate some very choppy waters?

The city’s challenge in navigating these economic conditions is it was built and conceived as a company town and suburban bedroom community. Simply said, it does not have a deep bench of corporate decision makers and diversity, mid- to high-level management leaders as residents, community economic strength or a sense of entrepreneurship necessary to establish a new growth cycle on its own.

Understanding this city’s physical, economic, visual and creativity infrastructure, as well as its collective behavior toward change, is a start. We must be willing to say it is up for discussion, open for improvement and revision. Yes, it is OK to admit that Federal Way has an inferiority complex compared to the star-power attractor cities of Seattle as well as those on the east side that are bastions of high tech jobs.

This lack of star power or any real sense of place translates to a lack of attractiveness for millennials, new business startups and corporate shakers and movers. This perception has to be smartly addressed and overcome.

This new year, let’s resolve to embrace our diversity and find ways to make it a core value. We need to recognize that, in the current time frame, Federal Way is an affordable city, but in no way are we a cheap date.

When courting investors, they need to know we are a partnership opportunity to be valued and able to deliver. As a city, we are a prime relocation opportunity with expectations of becoming a valued economic destination, a place with purpose, as well as a sense of home.

What people see today will not be what they see in 10 years. Hopefully the overall appearance will continue to improve. The major intersections at 320th and 348th scream congestion and strip mall tacky. Yes, they are better today than 10 years ago, but their lackluster appearance and retail mix is part of the challenge. In less than 10 years, with the introduction of light rail into what will become the downtown corridor, Federal Way becomes a direct destination stop from Sea-Tac Airport and Seattle. If what is here today continues to be what is, Federal Way will have failed to seize the moment. This light rail stop is our downtown catalyst moment and opportunity to make a statement.

The Performing Arts and Event Center is proving itself to be a worthy investment and destination. But without quality companion pieces of up-scale residential, better retail, unique restaurants, business diversity and urban walkability, the PAEC and the talked-about new city core will not achieve their potential.

If the current core is not re-thought and significantly redeveloped, the Federal Way Transit Center will continue to be a conduit of daily exodus for economic opportunities north. Without embracing change, we will drift toward being a city trapped in continuous cycles of talking big and acting small.

Federal Way needs to re-invent itself as a valued destination. A core of unimaginative or low-end opportunities may satisfy our flat-earth thinking residents and businesses, but, ultimately, they are detractors for change. Is it our destiny or community desire to simply be a beacon for the less fortunate?

If this community puts no energy into changing its spots, we will not attract any investors that can catalyze economic growth. This city’s leadership has some real choices to make. They can lead, talk a good game while maintaining the status quo or accept a quiet trend toward economic and community irrelevance. Welcome to 2018.

Keith Livingston is a longtime resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.

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