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June 6, 2014

Federal Way OKs $32M complex: Is this the start of something big?

Journal Staff Reporter

Courtesy Stephanie Bower [enlarge]
The City Council just approved the performing arts and conference center, and wants to start construction this fall.

Construction could begin this fall on a performing arts and conference center in Federal Way, and city officials hope the project will spur more development downtown.

The City Council unanimously OK'd the $32 million project Tuesday. It will have a 700-seat auditorium and several meeting spaces in 43,500 square feet.

Lorax Partners is working with the city on the project.

Construction could start in September, and take about 24 months.

Funding is from city, state and federal sources as well as donations, sponsorships, naming rights and bond financing if needed, said Patrick Doherty, director of Federal Way's Community Development Department.

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell organized a group of banking and retail experts to evaluate the project, and said they estimated construction will generate $59 million in spending and 338 jobs. Operations are expected to generate $3.2 million in annual spending.

The city has worked since 2007 to assemble two four-acre parcels for development at the intersection of South 316th Street and 20th Avenue South.

Lorax and team members LMN Architects and Mortenson Construction were chosen to develop the performing arts center on one of the four-acre sites, at the northeast corner of South 316th Street and 20th Avenue South.

The hilly property is close to the Federal Way Transit Center and in an area where Lorax Development Partner PJ Santos said he expects most of the city's growth will occur. Santos said the performing arts center can be the centerpiece of the neighborhood.

Courtesy Via Architecture and Nakano Associates [enlarge]
Across the street from the center site, the city wants to build a park and bring in a developer for a mixed-use project.

“The building will sit there gracefully and stunningly on the hill, and will give a sense of identity and a stoic vision of the city,” Santos said.

Lorax also plans to build a privately funded 125-room hotel, which Santos said should open around the time the arts center is done.

The other 4-acre site is just south of where the arts center will go. This summer the city plans to start building a small open space there, but Doherty said eventually the city wants to have a park that covers nearly half the site.

The goal is to attract a developer to build a mixed-use project there, on what Doherty calls the town square.

“The decision to pursue the performing arts center is what will activate developers,” Doherty said. “They know the area now is going to be moving and changing.”

Development around Federal Way has picked up in recent years, but Doherty said not much has been built in the center of the city because prices are higher and projects are more complicated.

But there is some activity. The main mall, Commons at Federal Way, landed Kohl's and Dick's Sporting Goods.

Lorax has done public-private partnerships with Bremerton and Shoreline, and Santos developed a project called Federal Way Crossings. He pointed to the transformative effect Pacific Place had on downtown Seattle as an example of the momentum that a good public-private partnership can create. Federal Way's performing arts center could have the same effect, he said, if it hires the right executive director who brings in performers and conferences.

If the hotel gets busy because of high quality events at the center then that could encourage more retail or even another hotel, he said, and all that will bring in more people.

But for this to work, Santos said the city must be bold.

“I'm a big believer that smaller cities need to think like they are Apple Computers,” Santos said. “They need to be looking forward and have to take risks in expanding and building and adding to the synergy of cities. If you sit back and look at what you have, you are going to get passed up.”

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