‘Downtown’ development and the change Federal Way needs | Livingston

Frank Gerry, the architect of many iconic buildings, said: “I don’t think all buildings have to be iconic, but the history of the world has shown us that cultures build iconic buildings for their major public buildings.”

Locally we are at a crossroads. The train is coming and the winds are changing. Will a new wind be sufficient to move Federal Way past its present stagnation, to become a reinvigorated city and lifestyle destination desired by a new generation of residents?

Navigating through the doldrums is a challenge because any puff of wind can start you moving, but will it get you where you need to go? Those who have been clamoring for a “downtown” are about to get their wish. Like all initial puffs of wind, it sets a course and going forward requires multiple course corrections to get to a destination. Since cities are stationary, the idea of a downtown, or an appealing recognizable place, is an evolutionary journey that never ends.

Going forward is about motion and our mayor, city council and staff are negotiating a contract for the sale of the city’s property known as TC3 to 1-Trent, a developer, to begin the process of changing the current characteristics of a seven-acre portion of our retail core into a modern mixed-use development with a significant public plaza as a focal point. Is the proposal under consideration the best the city and 1-Trent can do for the citizens of Federal Way? Only time will tell, but the answer may be yes because it is a wind that has the potential to set the city’s course on a new journey.

For Federal Way to succeed with its re-envisioning efforts, it requires overcoming a complacency undercurrent of anti-progress contrarians. Regardless, the sails need to be set for a new course, but doubts will be present and are a part of the change process. City councils, mayors, and communities across the country struggle with re-envisioning — change is hard.

The basics of what the city gets from 1-Trent’s proposal are three multifamily structures creating about 900 residential units and each building having ground floor retail space, parking for the Performing Arts and Event Center (PAEC), and a multipurpose public plaza. That describes loosely the first three phases of the proposal. Phase IV is where decisions get interesting. It could be an office building, an additional multifamily structure, or a new city hall.

Once the council resolutions authorizing the sale of TC3’s city ownership of the land are passed and paperwork signed, work can begin on the initial phases. Phase IV, which includes the possibility of a new city hall, will take a few years to determine the actual need, feasibility, other options, and financing. This is a tall order for a building that is required to have a significant footprint in determining the future of our city.

Is city hall being relocated a “want” or a “need,” has the city “outgrown” its existing city hall, and will the city be able to “pay” for a new city hall without creating a tax burden? The agreement with 1-Trent will give the city time to work out its issues, clarify needs, and get a capital package together before a city hall build contract is negotiated. If that task is not completed within the agreed timetable, Phase IV will become either an office building or a multifamily structure based on what is determined to be most economically prudent.

This is a multi-year project and the city has a few years to refine its journey within the journey of building the nucleus of a downtown core. Discussions are also underway about the need for additional community space, how much space is needed, and potential use. Community space adds an element to expand connectivity and outreach.

No matter who is at the discussion table, when people see the conceptual plan for TC3 and hear about the possibilities of building city hall as part of the project, they instinctively begin playing design Jenga. For anyone who has looked at the TC3 conceptual plan and been part of any discussion for relocating city hall, there is excitement with relatively few speaking in the negative.

This does not mean a consensus has been reached to relocate, and discussions with the community will continue to see how the pieces fit together to create what hopefully will be an iconic city hall capable of serving the needs of Federal Way for multiple generations. If the decision to proceed is made, the citizens deserve a city hall prominently located on the site as the defining feature of a new downtown.

Federal Way has been through these dreamy discussions of a new shiny object as the next best destination to get the city out of the doldrums multiple times. The toughest questions that need to be addressed are for our elected leadership. Will they set sail and catch the wind, find the financing, stay the course, be bold enough to capture a new future, and are they capable of staving off a mutinous citizenry who are content with the present?

Reimagining and charting a new course in what is a tired, uninteresting, and downtrodden part of Federal Way may not be what some of our passive-aggressive small-thinking city council members bargained for, but maybe we will have enough political will to risk catching a new wind. Will the partnership with 1-Trent be the vessel that catches the wind that builds a new future for Federal Way?

The goal is to make Federal Way relevant through change. 1-Trent believes they are that vessel and that the city is worthy of investment and capable of change. They believe their efforts will set the course for an ongoing partnership and establish a quality lifestyle within the new downtown core for years to come. The real question is, can the city be a worthy partner, believe in itself to go big, and build a city hall structure that anchors downtown with a statement that says — this is where you want to live, work, and play?

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com