Federal Way is trending in the wrong economic direction | Livingston

Our city’s planners are encouraging us to focus on developing a plan for the 7 acres the city owns adjacent to the Federal Way Performing Arts and Events Center (PAEC) that is mostly a parking lot and includes the old Target building.

The PAEC currently serves as the anchor tenant adjacent to this area, which means we need to think about the role the arts will play in creating a dynamic destination place for our future.

The PAEC opened in 2017 with great fanfare and expectations. It truly is an exceptional performance hall and events center capable of serving our city for many decades. The challenge has from the beginning been matching expectations to the realities of a city-suburb that is becoming more working class as well as a consumer market that has less disposable income, less leisure time, and is competing with big-screen TVs for entertainment.

A community core of PAEC advocates are still engaged as the nonprofit Federal Way Performing Arts Foundation, and from day one of the PAEC’s opening, they have been involved in creating access programs acquainting our region’s youth to live performance. Their banner program, Arts 4 Youth, is planning on presenting seven events in 2022-23. The goal is simple — connect today’s youth with opportunities to experience live performance, learn how it works, all while captivating young minds with imagination, energy, joy and life’s possibilities.

As a society, we are all still dealing with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 shutdown and pandemic concerns. Live performances ceased, theaters and schools were shuttered, and our lives moved to Zoom rooms and big-screen TVs for our connectivity and entertainment.

The PAEC can bring us out of our shells and re-establish live entertainment as an essential part of our lives.

During the pandemic, the arts foundation’s activities were curtailed, but they were able to bring to the PAEC in December 2021, with the efforts of the PAEC’s managing partner Oak View Group, a movie performance of “Polar Express.” This show proved to be a dynamic community connector for the arts foundation, creating an attendance of over 400 parents and children at a time when COVID-19 protocols made any gathering challenging. Many in attendance were first-time PAEC users.

The arts foundation is aware they need to begin re-engaging with the community as a facilitator of bringing performing arts to young audiences. To kick off their 2022-23 programming season, they are hosting a gala dinner and Broadway show on Oct. 15 at the PAEC.

The gala’s entertainment for the evening is a show titled “One Night in Memphis.” It is performed as a musical tribute to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. The show tells a story of one night in 1956, when they shared a microphone in a recording studio.

The musical talent of these artists defined the music scene for several generations and their impact today as musical talents is still relevant. Come to the gala and be regaled by the four cast members who performed in the Broadway version of the show, “Million Dollar Quartet.” If interested please contact the PAEC box office.

Events like the arts foundation’s gala help Federal Way make inroads into becoming a desired destination for live performance, special events and meetings on a regional scale. Our collective challenge is to make our city a desired arts, events, performance and people-energized community.

Our city planners know that their efforts to redefine our city’s currently uninspiring retail core into a dynamic regional resource requires creating a unique public space with the land the city owns. The arts work best when there is a natural synergy and relationship with what brings people together to live, work and play.

The PAEC as Federal Way’s primary performing arts provider in concert with Oak View Group’s stewardship is a capable resource for community building. But at the moment, it is floating as an island in a sea of mediocrity, light rail construction, adjacent to our Town Square Park that in some circles is referred to as “needles park,” and our ever-present homeless camping on the city’s staircase designed to improve walkability.

We need to be concerned about what our leaders are doing. We build special civic resources with an eye toward creating a better future for all, and yet we surround some of our highest valued real estate with subsidized housing and poverty. What outcome are we expecting?

Becoming a better community seems to have been hijacked. All cities have some level of subsidized housing, and our city has 4,100 subsidized housing units with more in the pipeline. This happens to be the highest number of units for a city in King County, with the exception of Seattle. We have 11 percent of our housing stock subsidized. As we trend toward increased poverty, how will we grow our tax or residential base to attract wealth and higher-level jobs to build a valued and desired destination city?

The city’s planners know they are pushing Sisyphus’s rock up a hill. Until the residents of Federal Way wake up and realize their complacency has helped enable our leaders to build the rock, change will not happen.

The next few years are critical. Federal Way is trending in the wrong economic direction. The city should have done more to protect its investment in the PAEC vicinity. Leadership may have tried, but never fully understood that poverty has a tipping point that escalates crime and social ills while deterring quality development.

Many cities have used the arts as a bridge to help beleaguered development areas evolve out of poverty into zones of respectability. The PAEC was intended to be a cornerstone for driving change and improving Federal Way. Its purpose has yet to be realized. As an engine of change, it needs a supporting cast.

A public visual arts facility combined with a plaza, public market, signature hotel, higher education center and city hall may create a clarified purpose and synergy for the target development area. The question is, with all the awkward development choices made to date, will the city be able to attract higher-level businesses, residential development and services to be part of redeveloping our retail core? Will our community actually support higher-level development, the arts — or even care?

Our city has difficult challenges, but we can and should support the PAEC and the arts foundation’s gala. Plan on attending their free (open to all) holiday event on Nov. 26, 2022 — the movie “Elf.”

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