Federal Way’s field of dreams vs. the voice inside our heads | Livingston

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” a baseball diamond was built in a cornfield in rural Iowa based on the landowner hearing an internal voice — “if you build it, he will come.” The “he” referred to the baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson. It was Jackson’s voice the lead character heard in his head, encouraging him to build.

Federal Way has its own field of dreams and it is seven-plus acres known as TC3 in the city’s downtown retail core.

Just like the movie, the city has a dream. Federal Way appears to be seeking a transformative moment with the potential development of TC3.

The voices we have been hearing as a community are city staffers Keith Niven, planning manager, and Chaney Skadsen, senior planner. They have done a remarkable job enlightening us about the possibilities a Request for Proposals (RFP) for TC3’s development could portend for our city. The RFP, which the city recently endorsed, took months to craft and embraces many of the hopes and dreams that our community’s residents have expressed.

For our city, the question is, if it gets developed, “will they come?” Who will come and will the results be a transformative renaissance for an uninspiring and decaying downtown retail core?

Our planners were handed a bag of sand with holes in the bottom and a directional charge of remaking Federal Way’s so-called downtown into something tangible before all the sand is gone. Their challenge was to “dream big” knowing their tools and resources are limited.

The RFP they developed sets a high bar, but we as a community need to realize that the developers who propose to build on city land, within the framework defined, are going to present our city with a dog-and-pony show that they think will best fit our needs within the limits they are willing to invest.

The city is in the dream phase of its planning, where anything is possible. Once they open the proposals, we will learn quickly how others perceive the potential of our community. The initial review requires patience and some negotiation within the rules in order to iron out the deliverables desired, what is acceptable to both sides before a deal is struck — or maybe a deal will not happen at all.

It is easy to dream about using someone else’s money to meet the desired outcomes defined within our RFP process. A developer will look at the demographics, economics, current zoning, existing development, light rail proximity, the city’s history for attracting outside development and support of those developers. The RFP is designed to benefit the city, but the developer has to make sure their investors can make money within the parameters defined.

What is the city’s record for supporting growth and change? From the outside looking in, the city and community may not have established the greatest record in recent years. If a proposing developer examines our community’s negative response to the acquisition of the Weyerhaeuser Campus by Industrial Realty Group (IRG), now doing business as Woodbridge Corporate Park, we will not appear as a friendly city in which to do business.

TC3 is supposed to be the catalyst for a new phase of attracting people and is supposed to begin revitalizing our core by giving light rail riders a reason to linger, live or pursue business in the area. Will it be enough of a domino to tip other property owners and development holding companies into pursuing a new path — the city’s preferred path?

In the past 10 years, a small supporting nucleus has been built in the area adjacent to TC3, which should be attractive to a developer. Town Square Park, the Performing Arts and Events Center (PAEC), and the stairs designed to connect the PAEC to Town Square Park are already in place.

Federal Way historically has had an ultra-small government footprint philosophy, which has not positioned our city well to be development savvy, nor has it positioned Federal Way to be a champion for community building or a city capable of attracting higher-end economic projects. The current RFP is a philosophical process change and requires a disruptor — “we can do it attitude.”

If the full potential of the conceptual plan is realized in the next 10-plus years or so, it could mean a multifamily housing density capable of adding 7,000 to 10,000 in population to our current retail-downtown core as it transforms itself into a dynamic “live, work, commute, 24-7 lifestyle-people-scape.” That means green and open space will need to be added. A good public space to target for consideration is 10 acres per 1,000 population. Can a minimum of 70-plus acres be carved out of the approximate 410 acres downtown-retail core to serve the public’s open space needs?

This is a “time will tell” project. The RFP is an essential starting point. The process will be fluid and frustrating for many who desire specific outcomes such as a public market rather than the multipurpose plaza proposed in the RFP or those championing additional affordable housing, which adds a negative to the city’s revenue burden.

TC3 is too small at 7-plus acres to accommodate everybody’s personal dream. Ultimately, the chosen developer has to see Federal Way as a city capable of making their dream of achieving a return on investment pencil out within the proposal framework the city has defined.

Build it and they will come may be our desired mantra, but regardless of whatever voice you are hearing in your head, just know this is an essential starting point for realizing a bigger dream.

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