Other than Mayor Jim Ferrell, is anyone else brokenhearted about Dick’s Drive-in choosing Kent, near Highline, rather than Federal Way for a new location? Dick’s is a Seattle-based hamburger institution, but it has little or no meaning to suburban residents. The mayor’s fixation on it suggests a misguided focus on job recruitment in Federal Way.
In fact, Dick’s is just another one of something that already we have too many of — hamburger stands. While helpful in broadening an employment base, fast-food restaurants do not provide the family-wage jobs that we need. Although, some adult family members work in fast food because we don’t have other options.
But Ferrell’s alter ego goes too far the other way when he suggests Federal Way try to become the home of the second Amazon headquarters. A thoughtful and seasoned vision for our community is what is truly needed.
The $32 million Performing Arts and Event Center will provide only a small number of jobs, and they will work for city government. The alleged spin-off jobs won’t arrive for a long time, if ever. The long-ballyhooed tax credits have turned sour, and the city is $8 million to $9 million short of what they need to pay for the PAEC, with a tax increase still likely.
And the college campus that Ferrell touts? It will likely need state funding if the University of Washington is going to be one of the partners. Highline College has always intended to return to Federal Way with a visible image, and former Highline College President Jack Bermingham started some classes within the city quite some time ago.
And DaVita? That is a good addition to our employment base. However, insiders say City Hall may not have had much to do with the decision. They say DaVita made the choice to relocate from Tacoma to Federal Way over four years ago, and it was because there was no business and occupation tax, not because of any sales pitch from City Hall.
The point is, there is no City Hall-led, community-wide effort at an economic development strategy. It seems more impulse than strategy.
Even when the opportunity to establish the wine industry as a downtown lure, with a tasting room, was dropped in City Hall’s lap, it still took months for city officials to recognize the value, and even that took leadership from the business community.
Between fast-food additions and pie in the sky, how many opportunities have been missed?
Ferrell has always been under the mistaken impression that he should get on a plane and go to Los Angeles or Chicago and personally recruit business to come to Federal Way. That is how a big city mayor might approach recruitment but only with a briefcase full of solid research and a professional having already opened the door.
Federal Way lacks that level of stature. Ask Dick’s. They couldn’t even remember that Federal Way was one of the places they had visited.
And Ferrell’s most recent economic development partner was a fish warehouse promoted by his former chief of staff.
What Federal Way needs is a professional who understands how to strategically recruit and market by building a niche and a downtown that blends together interesting and attractive shopping opportunities, something unique that makes people want to spend the day here.
Wine is one possibility, a pub brewery is another. Mostly, we need an actual downtown plan that identifies our road map, not one built around the fragile financial status of the PAEC, as currently planned, but one that shows how an entire area can be helped to prosper. At the same time all the neighborhood service models need attention and upgrades.
One possible building block remains the idea of moving City Hall downtown. That is 300 people for lunch and after-work shopping every day!
Then provide spending options for the new shoppers. Look at downtown Puyallup, Auburn, Burien and Kent Station. Visit Tacoma and its Procter district for ideas that would work here. Look for a theme to tie the business district together. Every other city is using “town center,” so come up with something more creative. The downtown park is a great addition. But the water feature is the wrong item in the wrong place. The passive portion of the park that can serve as the new community gathering place is what was needed. We are trying to attract financial investment to a seven-day-a-week business environment, not children for the weekend on a few sunny days.
What is your vision for Federal Way ? What shops do you like, and are they here or somewhere else? And about that name thing? Everyone complains about us being called Felony Way. Is it time to consider a name change?
We need vision and leadership.
Federal Way is an unvarnished stone of potential. But unless we want to remain a bedroom community, we are running out of time.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former Auburn mayor and retired public official. He can be reached at email@example.com.