Big challenges, big opportunities outlined in mayor’s State of the City address

Mayor Jim Ferrell offered an optimistic vision of Federal Way’s future, buoyed by recent business development and approaching light rail access, during his 2023 State of the City address.

Ferrell focused on business growth, public safety and the future of Federal Way’s downtown sector Feb. 16, with hundreds in attendance at the Performing Arts and Event Center. This was the first time in three years the address has been delivered to a live audience.

“Federal Way is really taking charge and control of our own destiny,” Ferrell said.

In his roughly 45-minute address, Ferrell outlined big opportunities and big challenges in the city.

The opportunities include major business additions like Papé Kenworth’s planned 2024 facility and 14-bay semi-truck service center; the recently-opened Amazon Fresh grocery store and upcoming Dick’s Drive-In near The Commons; All City Fence setting up shop locally; Burlington’s plans this year to open on the ground floor of the old Sears at The Commons; Smith Brothers Dairy distribution center across from St. Francis Hospital; and plans for revitalizing downtown through the Town Center 3 project.

Combined, those new businesses will bring in more than 100 new jobs to the area, Ferrell said.

Meanwhile, construction is nearly done at two buildings on the former Weyerhaeuser campus, part of a $236 million investment into the campus by real estate developer Industrial Realty Group. Taxes on the construction alone will generate $13 million, Ferrell said, and the buildings are expected to be done around the spring and summer.

When all projects on the campus are complete, Woodbridge will create 3,100 new jobs and $6.8 million in new annual tax revenue, Ferrell said.

“Federal Way issued 3,500 construction permits just last year for a total value of almost $300 million,” Ferrell said. “Our goal is to support the continued economic recovery, growth and business well being as we emerge from the effects of the pandemic, and look into a new economy that … operates differently than it did pre-COVID.”

Ferrell also touted the fact that bids to tear down the old Target building on South 314th Street came in $100,000 cheaper than the city expected.

“In the next month or two, you will see that old Target building come down and make way for this new and important development,” Ferrell said. “I’ll be out there that day.”

Then there’s the Link light rail extension, due to finish in two years, that will bring a “staggering” 30,000 more visitors to downtown Federal Way every day, Ferrell said. With that many people, the city’s research into improving walkability and parking options in the area are timely, he said.

“Light rail will bring nearly unlimited potential for new businesses, jobs and investments in our community,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell also talked about the city’s $347 million 2023-2024 budget, financial investments and ability to fund the 13 new police officer positions approved by the city council in 2021.

“We earn $1.8 million a year while ensuring the safety and liquidity of those public funds,” Ferrell said. “The critically important police officer positions are fully covered, using the interest of our reserve investments. … This is a total success.”

The Star Lake Elementary School choir performed “One Love” prior to Ferrell’s speech Thursday. Alex Bruell / The Mirror

The Star Lake Elementary School choir performed “One Love” prior to Ferrell’s speech Thursday. Alex Bruell / The Mirror

The challenges, as Ferrell sees them: Legislative changes in recent years to police pursuit and drug possession laws, and the region’s struggle with homelessness.

The state Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling in State v. Blake invalidated the existing felony drug possession statute and led lawmakers to a temporary fix last session. Under the current standard, set to expire this summer, those in possession of illegal drugs must be diverted three times for services before they can be arrested.

But “that has to change,” Ferrell said, arguing that police need to be able to stop those who use drugs out in the open. The Legislature must come up with a new fix for the Blake decision this session, or the personal possession of controlled substances in Washington will be decriminalized.

Ferrell has made trips to Olympia to advocate for those efforts as well as rolling back changes made to police pursuit laws. A 2021 bill restricted the circumstances in which police could start those chases, intending to reduce the number of fatal collisions and other issues they cause.

Supporters of the reform efforts pointed to reductions in the number of people killed in those pursuits since the change in law. Critics said they emboldened criminals, incentivized car thefts and have made the state less safe.

“We need to give our officers the common-sense tools they need to protect and save lives,” Ferrell said. “We need to get some certainty in our laws to keep our communities safe. We also need to address the human catastrophe (for) individuals suffering from addiction. We need to get our arms around this issue.”

Ferrell cited the city’s graffiti program, which removes tags within 24 hours of them being spotted; the city’s shopping cart recovery program; and the city, council and FUSION’s work to create standards and availability for emergency shelter as other civic accomplishments.

“FUSION has been a wonderful partner and they leapt right into action,” Ferrell said. “Last December, during an unexpected brutal cold snap, we got 28 people in shelter and out of the cold, literally saving lives. Thank you, FUSION.”

The city has also welcomed several new or promoted high-level employees over the last year, Ferrell said, including Kevin Pelley, formerly a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, as the city’s emergency manager. Also new to the city is Economic Development Director Tanja Carter.

Former planning manager Keith Niven has taken on the role of Community Development Director; Brian Davis, who previously held that role, is now City Administrator.

“Despite COVID, and the challenges we faced through that difficult time, I see neighbors meeting for National Night Out; the Sikh community donating generous time to fix the Steel Lake boat dock; the diverse celebrations of MLK and Pride Month; all walks of life donating to feed the hungry on the Mayor’s Day of Concern,” Ferrell said.