How To Spark Downtown Development

June 30, 2014

By: Marc Stiles
Via: Puget Sound Business Journal

The performing arts center in downtown Federal Way will have views of Mount Rainier. The City Council voted on June 3 to move ahead with the $32 million project. Illustration by Stephanie Bower

The city of Federal Way [Washington] last week made a $32 million gamble by deciding to move ahead with construction of a performing arts and conference center. In economic development circles, this is known as a “catalyst project.”
With construction of the new facility at the northeast corner of South 316th Street and 20th Avenue South, city leaders hope it will jump start redevelopment of the city center — a long-time goal.
The Business Journal spoke with Jeff Marcell, a new senior partner at economic development company TIP Strategies and former executive of the EDC of Seattle and King County, about such projects, and what makes some successful.
What’s a good example of a catalyst project actually turning a languishing area in to a vibrant one?
One of the most recognized ones is Kent Station in Kent. The city purchased a chemical plant in the middle of its urban core and redeveloped the site with guidance from the private sector. They took advantage of surrounding public sector investments like a new King County Justice Center and Sound Transit’s commuter rail station to fuel traffic to the development and later added facilities for Central Washington University and Green River Community College that brought even more activity to the development.
How can cities ensure projects actually achieve their goals?
Identify clear goals, including job creation, tax revenue generation and changing the preconceived mindset about a community. Cities also should conduct a comprehensive feasibility analysis, and they should lean on private sector expertise for guidance. It is vital to have broad and strong local leadership actively involved. Cost overruns and delays should be expected, and cities should be patient. It may take several years to see results.
And what should cities not do?
They should not review elaborate architectural drawings before conducting the feasibility analysis. Visual presentations generate emotional responses that are not conducive to more objective judgements. Cities also shouldn’t develop plans and move ahead without the opportunity for community buy-in.