Federal Way faces deadline to secure site for proposed arts center

With a looming December deadline to use state money appropriated for a performing arts, conference and cultural center in Federal Way, the pressure is on to once and for all secure a site for the facility.

With a looming December deadline to use state money appropriated for a performing arts, conference and cultural center in Federal Way, the pressure is on to once and for all secure a site for the facility.

Last year, the Legislature offered Federal Way $5 million to put toward a performance center. The money comes with strings attached. The city does not get the funding unless it makes reasonable progress, by Nov. 30, on pegging a site for a performance facility. If this goal is met, Federal Way will capture the state funding. The city has until the close of the year to spend the money, city attorney Pat Richardson said.

Reasonable progress is defined as identifying or purchasing a site, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said. To simply pinpoint a general area where the facility could be built is not enough, Mayor Linda Kochmar said.

“You have to take some sort of action,” she said.

Land acquisition

Just two months from the end of the year, the city council has not held any public discussions on the topic. Several executive sessions — meetings held by the city council and city manager that are closed to the public — have listed property acquisition as a topic of discussion. Both Farmer and Kochmar declined to say what property was being discussed. They could not confirm whether the acquisition is connected to a performing arts, conference and cultural center (PACC).

Joann Piquette, a Federal Way resident, is a member of the Federal Way Coalition of the Performing Arts, an active body in bringing a PACC to Federal Way. Piquette said she was told by council members that they are currently working on acquiring a PACC site. She is unsure which property the council is interested in.

“I know they have been pursuing one,” she said.

Potential locations

In the past, a handful of properties have been identified as potential PACC sites. At one point, the school district was willing to donate land near Truman High School, 31455 28th Ave. S. The offer stood if the city allowed the school district to use the PACC for school performances.

Developer Brian Park, owner of Pal-Do World Plaza, near 2200 S. 320th St., in 2008, offered a portion of his property for a performing arts center. Park was unable to comment on whether the offer still stands, but said information could be available at the end of this month.

“It is (an) ongoing discussion,” Park said.

Park, who is considering redevelopment on his site, would benefit from a performing arts center on his property because the venue would draw crowds willing to spend money at surrounding businesses, former city manager Neal Beets said in 2008.

PACC planning

For now, the money is still in the state’s hands and will remain there if Federal Way fails to secure a PACC site by this month’s deadline. If the city captures the funding, it could be used for a land purchase or capital construction, Richardson said. Kochmar would not comment directly on whether the city council is still interested in building a PACC, but indicated an interest remains.

“We would be very foolish to lose that money that has been set aside for the city,” she said.

State funding or not, a PACC isn’t in Federal Way’s immediate future, Kochmar said. A PACC could cost between $35 million and $55 million, depending on whether land is donated, how parking is structured, inflation and construction costs, according to January 2009 information provided by the city.

“Are there any plans to build anything in the near future? No, we don’t have any money,” Kochmar said.

Piquette said fundraising for a PACC can start as soon as a site is selected. The Performing Arts Coalition was offered $325,000 in last year’s Legislative session. The money could be used for design purposes, but is up for grabs only until the end of the year. It’s dependent on whether the city secures its $5 million.

“We really have to have the project started before we can get the $325,000 we were awarded from the state and before we can do any fundraising campaigns,” she said.

Check it out

A PACC is a contentious issue among the city’s leaders. When former city manager Neal Beets was hired in 2006, he took a personal interest in a performance center. By 2008, he was heading public meetings about the topic nearly monthly. He and staff members traveled the region touring performing arts centers and asking questions.

In May 2009, the city council decided not to renew Beets’ contract. Once Beets departed, regular public meetings headed by the city regarding a PACC ceased. With a few exceptions, such as a favorable feasibility study and business plan presented in July 2009 by Webb Management Services Inc., little has been said recently in the public realm about a PACC.