Expediting projects to move city out of status quo slump

Weyerhaeuser has been gone for four years and new development is necessary. However, we may have become an impediment to accepting our potential.

Keith Livingston

Keith Livingston

Our election for City Council is just about over. Regardless of outcome, it is likely that our city will continue sinking toward lower ground based on past performance. Elections are about change but the change we have been getting has not been sufficient to make this city an economic attractor.

The reality of living in a “we have always done it this way community” means that we are trapped in “status quo” and are barely able to react or may react condescendingly when opportunity presents itself. Anyone can do things the way they have always been done, but it takes an open-mindedness to accept a different vision.

There has been some progress. As positives, we have a new Town Square Park, a Performing Arts and Event Center, a downtown staircase under construction intended to improve pedestrian movement in the town core, and light rail’s projected arrival in 2024.

In the not-progress category, we have several new multifamily and senior housing developments geared toward lower income. The problem is not with the developments themselves but with the fact that financing for several of these developments required years of deferred property taxes.

Affordable housing without question is needed county-wide, but this city feels like a dumping ground of choice. Being a poverty magnet is costly and not a wise economic development position.

The selling of marijuana is on the ballot and many neighboring cities have legalized its sale. Yes, marijuana sales can provide tax revenue but is this the economic attractor that is going to entice middle-class families and companies to relocate here?

The higher priority should be getting current projects underway from consideration to concept, and through the development process to groundbreaking at a more expedient pace. The DaVita project, which will bring 1,300 jobs to our city, took four years of effort before groundbreaking occurred in September.

Weyerhaeuser has been gone for four years and new development is necessary. However, we as a citizenry may have become an impediment to seeing or accepting our potential. There is an element within our community that seems to prefer working on assuring the city doesn’t change and favors recreating the past.

Industrial Realty Group (IRG), now doing business locally as Woodbridge, purchased the campus in 2016 with the goal of filling an architecturally iconic empty building and redeveloping the campus into a profitable concern and community benefactor. Woodbridge’s ideas for campus development since day one has been challenged and disparaged as though “we the community” owned the property.

The city does have an oversight role. It is the city’s responsibility to assure compliance with ordinances, the concomitant agreement, and that all environmental concerns are properly mitigated, while serving as a regulatory compliance overseer of development plans and construction.

As residents of Federal Way, we did not, nor did the city, spend and risk $70 million to purchase the property. Regardless, every plan proposed to date by Woodbridge has been challenged and appealed procedurally.

Yes, we have a community sense of ownership and pride of wanting the iconic campus and corporate headquarters preserved. We also want the ability to continue publicly interacting with the park-like campus and its gardens. Encouraging Woodbridge to build a smaller warehouse footprint may be a preference but it is not a likely outcome.

Woodbridge anticipates local spending of $236 million in construction costs, possibly more, for the campus’ redevelopment. New construction involves five warehouse structures in addition to upgrades necessary for the former headquarters building. When construction gets underway it will begin generating additional property tax.

Currently the Woodbridge campus generates $1.7 million in property taxes. At completion of construction, the campus will generate an additional $1.9 million annually in property taxes. This increase in tax revenues benefits the Federal Way Public Schools annually with an additional $780,000 and the city’s annual share is $145,000. More city revenues from sales tax will also be generated annually when construction begins and buildings are occupied.

IRG/Woodbridge is a buy and hold long-term developer and needs to be successful in its efforts to reconfigure the campus into an economic engine for their company and Federal Way. Their intent is to redevelop the campus in a way that expands its use while maintaining the woodlands feel and accessibility the community has historically appreciated.

Frustration has been focused on the proposed size of the warehouse structures, related traffic concerns and the number of trucks that will be using the campus needing access to State Highway 18 and Interstate 5. Rather than get angry at additional traffic, we need to be challenging the state and city to upgrade access and egress to the campus to mitigate negative impacts.

Instead, our city staff and elected elites are operating with their hands-tied based on community challenges. Communities are shaped by dialogue and the democratic process allows push-back. The message our pushback is sending to potential companies, developers, corporations and entrepreneurs, is that Federal Way is a tough provincial protectionist place to justify for business relocation but content with low-end development.

IRG/Woodbridge is a California company. They are used to meeting all kinds of stringent environmental regulations and development requirements. But, the continuing buzz-saw of unhappy anti-campus development advocates has created a three-year plus delay in allowing anything to get underway.

Federal Way may be on the precipice of being known as a city that is anti-development, laggards in facilitating job opportunities or visioning a sustainable future. Just realize that if this city continues losing because it is doing things the way they have always been done, we will fail to thrive.

Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.

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