The city appears to be looking for the “big score” or “home run” in their approach to economic development. And the new economic development director may have been hired, at least in part, because of his involvement with big projects like the Super Bowl in California.
The city sees the Performing Arts and Conference Center, a college campus and buying the former Target building for some unstated development as the cornerstone of a downtown resurgence. They also mentioned movie studios for the Weyerhaeuser location.
Thinking big is alright, but they have now bet over $40 million on those projects and on that strategy. To put it mildly, that is a lot of money. Is it the right strategy and the right priority for our city and is that the best use of city staff time? And what do we really want our downtown to look like in the future?
But most importantly, are we targeting the right groups for our future growth and future neighbors? Shouldn’t we be targeting the generation of millennials? The performing arts center is for an older group. A college might work, but how many years will that take, since about a dozen colleges are already within 30-40 minutes of Federal Way?
Open your mind and think about other options that might be more fun and more productive while we wait for the “home run.”
What do you want to feel like when you are downtown? Is there a common theme to tie the area together?
When you shop out of town, where do you go? Why?
Think about small, entertaining and lively shops. Think about the Gateway shopping area with its tree-lined and flower-filled meandering roads, theaters, Marlene’s Market and three different restaurants, See’s Candies, a frame shop and a place for ice cream. You can stroll to all of them in minutes.
Take that homegrown concept and extend it west and north through the next two shopping centers to Pacific Highway. Change the roads to be more pedestrian friendly by rerouting pass-through traffic around the area.
Now fill in the area with flowers and trees, benches and great places to shop and spend your or visitors’ money.
We have heard many favorable comments about Kent Station and could steal some ideas from there. But have you been to Puyallup lately? Their downtown includes several interesting businesses including a bakery, English tea shop and a cheese shop. I put on five pounds in two hours. There is an inviting informal western feel to the area and significant pedestrian traffic.
Or, if a neighborhood feel is what you want, go visit the reborn Proctor district in Tacoma, but check out some of the architecture in “Old Town” on the way to your destination.
In the space of about two blocks, Proctor has three great restaurants, a Made in Washington store, a Train Hobby shop, theater, two women’s clothing stores, furniture store and Compass Rose where you can fill an Easter basket or Christmas stocking with truly interesting gifts. There is also a Teaching Toys and Bookstore, where any parent could easily win a child’s heart.
They also have a Metropolitan Market, like we used to have. There is no specific theme but a vintage clock, iron sidewalk benches and the architecture give the area a 1950’s feel that is inviting, safe and comfortable. There are also historical markers inlayed in the sidewalk.
Or try Auburn. They “liberated” many of their main street ideas from main streets across the country with a dash of Disneyland’s Main Street USA thrown in. The color scheme is from Victoria B.C., as is the flower program with an assist from Edmonds, and the sidewalk replicates an 1800’s boardwalk.
And don’t miss the chocolate shop. An additional idea when you visit Auburn — go see their museum. It is small but has a touch of the Provincial Museum of British Columbia in it and is worth the time. We could do that here in the downtown or upgrade Brooklake into another attraction. It is a golden opportunity that is just waiting for leadership.
Close by is Burien with its upgraded main street attractions, including a wine bar, bakery and Irish pub and restaurant.
Their library and City Hall are located downtown, where ours should be. But walk a block to charming “Old Burien” and try the bakery and the 909 Cafe, which is featured in a regional magazine this month. Speaking of old, try “old Bellevue,” which is just south of their downtown park.
It’s a little pricey but very attractive. You’ll want to go back. And just for fun, go visit Renton, Redmond and Kirkland, and you will get even more ideas.
All these places have something in common. They have energy and feel alive. Places like these would attract a lot of shoppers, both local and visitors. They also have a lot of young people who were probably visiting, but may like what they see and want to move. But extending the Gateway “feel” of our new downtown is so important that we may need to look at architectural changes in the newly developing areas.
Maybe our city fathers could put their creative ideas into an actual plan and consider recruiting some business like the ones mentioned here. Maybe 25 small hits would provide more progress than one home run. You only have to attract a few to create a buzz that attracts others. I know there are many long-time residents who think looking at other communities for inspiration is disloyal. It isn’t. It’s smart.
Lastly, each one of these towns has a theme and an annual community celebration beyond the Fourth of July. We need that as well. I know the mayor’s office is working on a 25th anniversary recognition. That could be the start of something big for our future.
But has anyone asked you what you think or want? Speak up.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: firstname.lastname@example.org.