El Centro’s expansion includes saving roller skating rink

The Pattison’s West Skate Rink was set to close, but will survive pending an October property purchase.

Pattison’s West, the skating jewel of South King County, has found a new owner — El Centro de la Raza — who will keep the roller rink open when the nonprofit buys the building and property in a $6.5 million sale this fall.

But the deal, slated for early October, will mean more for the greater community than just keeping skating alive.

The organization operates its Federal Way office across the street from the roller rink and is poised to buy several connected parcels owned by the Pattisons, greatly expanding El Centro’s operations and building new housing and community space over the next several years.

The full name of El Centro de la Raza translates to “The Center for People of All Races” in English. The organization, founded by the Latino community, offers youth and veteran services, business and housing development, basic and emergency services for families and more.

The master plan will see Pattison’s preserved as a skating rink (though with a new name), with El Centro’s new three-story community center, office, artist space and youth services center constructed at the opposite end of the triangle-shaped property.

Then, across 16th Ave from the Rink, El Centro aims to build new spaces for small businesses, an early child development center and two new affordable housing developments totaling 208 units on South 341st Place.

“We definitely want to see the continuation of the roller rink,” Executive Director Estela Ortega said. “We think it is a good activity, for families, youth, children, and really people of all ages.”

El Centro has a similar footprint in Seattle already and knows how to handle big projects, Ortega said. Keeping the roller rink intact means not only employing young people and maintaining a local cultural fixture, but also guarantees a “destination point” where El Centro can offer social services and business development, and create an open-air community market.

Like with their work in Seattle, “this is not just about housing,” Ortega said. “We are creating community here, programs and activities for people from all walks of life. That’s what we seeing happening with Pattison’s and our property.”

Big plans

El Centro opened its Federal Way office in January 2020, Ortega said. (The organization was founded in the early 1970s in Seattle.) But their operations in the South Sound are about to really take off.

Plans at Pattison’s include interior renovations, revitalizing the parking lot and building approximately 1,400 square feet of street-side retail space connected to the roller rink. The other side of the Pattison’s property, currently an unused auto repair building, will be replaced with a three-story Community Center, featuring space for artists and youth and office space for El Centro.

But that’s only Phase 1 of a grander campus plan El Centro has planned for the area, which sits at a vital intersection of two arterials, close to I-5 and between two future light rail stations.

Phase 2 will see a new 79-unit affordable family housing development across 16th Ave. South, including an early learning center, playground and space for business tenants. El Centro plans to ask the city of Federal Way this year to rezone the property to support this mixed-use goal.

Phase 3 will put a larger, 129-unit affordable housing development next door by 18th Place South, also including small business tenant space. Both housing developments will contain largely one- and two-bedroom units, with a scattering of three- and four-bedroom units.

In the center, El Centro de la Raza Executive Director Estela Ortega and Pattison’s West owner Mike Pattison discuss the future of the rink to a group touring the facility. U.S. Rep. Adam Smith stands to the right. Alex Bruell/Sound Publishing

In the center, El Centro de la Raza Executive Director Estela Ortega and Pattison’s West owner Mike Pattison discuss the future of the rink to a group touring the facility. U.S. Rep. Adam Smith stands to the right. Alex Bruell/Sound Publishing

The entire project could receive millions in federal funding. U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash. 9th District) successfully included it as one of his requests for the House Appropriations Committee this year. (Smith represents the Federal Way, SeaTac, south Seattle and Bellevue area in Congress.)

For the project to receive that federal funding, both chambers of Congress will need to agree on their overall government funding bill — something Smith’s staff don’t expect to happen before the November election, said Smith’s press secretary Jaelin O’Halloran.

That funding, if successful, will help El Centro purchase the parcels of land needed to develop all five properties in the master plan. In the meantime, El Centro has secured a $5.2 million loan from the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and received around $1.2 million from the State of Washington.

Smith took a tour of the properties on Aug. 23 with other local representatives. Building a community in cities like Federal Way, which many have long described as a bedroom community for commuters to Tacoma and Seattle, isn’t easy, but places like the roller rink help, Smith said.

“You need the community centers, the roller skating rink, places for young people to go,” Smith said. “And I think it ties directly in with what El Centro is trying to do here. … I think this is a great idea and a much needed project. We’re trying to mesh, mash up all the various support systems and get them the money they need to make it happen.”

The Pattison’s property will be developed first, and between the time needed to secure money and complete the design process, any actual construction likely won’t happen until late 2025 at the earliest, Ortega said.

While the name “Pattison’s” may be going, it appears the skating center beloved by many Federal Way residents will be sticking around for years to come. Alex Bruell/Sound Publishing

While the name “Pattison’s” may be going, it appears the skating center beloved by many Federal Way residents will be sticking around for years to come. Alex Bruell/Sound Publishing

On a roll

The news came in late 2020 that Pattison’s owner Mike Pattison and his wife Kay were ready to sell the business and retire. Local skaters expressed fear at the time over whether the new owners would keep the rink alive.

Ortega confirmed that El Centro will retain the rink and would like to retain existing staff.

“Whatever is going to have Pattison’s not skip a beat, that’s what we’re interested in keeping,” Ortega said.

It produces mixed emotions for Paige Mars, a 21-year-old student at Central Washington University who travels back home to Federal Way in the summer to work as Pattison’s assistant general manager. She’s worked there for about five years, and like so many young adults in south King County, she has spent birthday parties and school gatherings at the colorful skate rink.

“It’s a loving community that they have built here for people of all ages. I’ve really gotten to know different types of [people] here. … It’s been really great to see people come together, especially considering the times we’ve been going through the last few years. It’s a safe space for myself and everyone else.”

Mars said she’s happy the rink will stay open, but sad to see the Pattisons go. She said she hopes the tight-knit family feeling at the rink doesn’t change under new ownership.

“It’s the number one reason I come back during the summer and over break,” Mars said. “It’s meant a lot to me that I’ve been able to provide that same great party and skating experience to others [that I had as a kid]. I love the Pattison’s family, and they mean a lot to me. I love my coworkers.”

The Pattisons have a long history in the area. Mike Pattison’s grandfather started the Redondo rink in 1936, but it burned down in 1951. Mike’s parents moved to Spokane after that, where they started Pattison’s North. In 1966, Mike’s grandparents bought the Federal Way property. It was heavily forested at the time and didn’t open as a rink until 1979.

After they made the decision to look for buyers, a handful of churches and businesses expressed interest in the property, the Pattisons said, and not all of them would have kept the rink.

But “it’s better if it stays a rink,” Kay Pattison said. “It’d be kind of sad [if it didn’t].”

El Centro was approached in December last year about potentially buying the property, Ortega said. State representatives Frank Chop and Jamila Taylor helped clue El Centro into the for-sale Pattison’s property across the street.

The sale will likely close in early October. After the ink dries, the rink will have new owners and a new name, since the rink will no longer be under the Pattison’s brand.

“We’re shooting for [October] fourth,” Mike Pattison said. “That’s my birthday.”

This story has been updated to make a correction: Rep. Smith represents the 9th District, not the 3rd District.