As we start a new decade it is a good time to think about what we are, and what we want to be as a community. The car was king when Federal Way was built, which is why we have wide streets, and trees that reflect the historical influence of Weyerhaeuser. But Weyerhaeuser is not here anymore, and car use needs to be reduced if we want our grandchildren to have a planet to live on.
So, what do we want to look like in 2030 and beyond? What should be our goals?
My vision of our future includes completion of mass transit that ties us to other regional centers supported by more bus service. But we also need a community-wide shuttle bus circulator system to connect our housing and neighborhood shopping areas to each other and to downtown. We need to plan for each neighborhood to provide a local level of services, such as a grocery stores, cafés, barber shops, salons, gas stations, cleaners, day care and parks for each age level, that create self-supporting villages and reduce overall traffic and gas consumption.
Transit-oriented development is part of our future but is a specialty of its own, and the city should hire an expert consultant to provide creative options.
But some obvious needs include more affordable multi-family housing built downtown within walking distance of the Sound Transit rail system, and they need to be taller to accommodate future growth. Each should be required to have child care facilities on site. City Hall economic developers appear to be always after the big score, or fast food outlets. There isn’t much need for the city to continue spending money to try and recruit business from California; the tools are already here to make us a good location. We need to find a niche that fits the area and then add more interesting shops that attract walkers. Maybe a downtown winery and chocolate shop. Envision University Village in Seattle, the Proctor district in Tacoma, or downtown Auburn.
Add a coordinated color scheme and a year-round flower program to enliven the area. Change the street alignment to meander more and encourage traffic to go around the city center unless that is their destination.
And no matter how great Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell says the city’s permit system is, it is not believable. The Chamber of Commerce hears routinely from businesses frustrated with the permit system. The city should take an honest look at what customers say and what other communities do and make changes.
Current leadership thought the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center would generate economic growth, and they have planned to build a hotel to ensure visiting tourists have a place to stay. That might happen by 2040, but the hotel would not be full of PAEC attendees unless the shows are better, and decision-makers should realize the market isn’t Seattle or Bremerton. The market is South King County and North Pierce County. The new Town Center steps are nice but for $2 million, maybe the city could have considered something a little more creative with long-range vision. Do you really want to walk up those stairs? Maybe a two-way escalator with a roof, as it sometimes rains here, next to a multi-level waterfall and garden?
And Ferrell likes to say that the PAEC is 85% funded — that is political spin. The PAEC is still a financial drain as we got less than expected from the federal tax credits by several million, athe naming rights have not been sold and the hotel land has not been sold either.
Rather than think of the PAEC as the city center and build a new downtown around it, there is a much easier answer.
Move City Hall, the courts and police into the former Target building, or at least move them downtown. That would provide two gains. Residents could take the new circulator buses to any neighborhood and also visit downtown, and it would add over 300 city employees as shoppers who could walk to a restaurant or anything else they would need. Now residents have to drive all over town to do business. City Hall is not visible where it is and adds nothing to our economic needs. City government could provide an extra incentive for its employees to live in Federal Way along with including a bus pass to use the circulator to and from work.
The business community through the Chamber of Commerce is crucial . In its Key Sector report the chamber noted retail and accommodation sectors lead in Federal Way, followed by professional services. Is that the right niche? They also noted that millions of dollars are earned in key sectors by people who live in town but work outside of town. “Commerce wants an economic inflow and outflow of wages because it shows we are part of a vibrant, interdependent business region,” said chamber CEO Becca Martin.
Then if Ferrell will stop blaming the school district and treat them like true partners, City Hall might consider providing incentives for the school district headquarters to return to the downtown and possibly Lakehaven Water and Sewer District. But that’s not all.
We have many people with needs and that will continue. The city needs an actual plan to end homelessness, not just move them from place to place in hopes they will leave. The city’s “committee of the moment,” be it Violence Prevention, Mothers and Children, or Mayor’s Homeless Committee, have primarily been about photo ops to provide a temporary Bandaid to a political problem, along with finding someone else to actually do the work. A real plan with solutions and a commitment of city funding is needed, not another request to the Legislature that may not get funded, but gives the appearance of effort.
We need to have elected city leadership with a long-term vision who can see things as they could be, and are willing to do the hard work of getting consensus on a plan and move it forward with city money.
These are just some of my opinions. What are your long-term ideas? Send me an email, or write a letter to the editor. What do you want Federal Way to look and feel like in 2030 and beyond?
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.