Story by Ralph Nichols
Photos by Scott Schaefer
Highline cities have weathered the recession and now their economic futures look bright, mayors of four area cities told members of the Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce on Friday, April 11.
Mayors Mia Gregerson, SeaTac, Dave Kaplan, Des Moines, Lucy Krakowiak, Burien, and Jim Haggerton, Tukwila, all said at the annual luncheon that city revenues are increasing as new economic development boosts their local economies.
The beginning of Sound Transit’s light rail line extension southward from the SeaTac/Airport station and the start of work on the Angle Lake light rail station at International Blvd. and S. 200th St. made this past year “eventful,” said Gregerson.
As did the passage last November of Proposition 1, which mandates a $15 minimum wage for certain employees in SeaTac and requires city government to regulate the initiative’s wage and benefit requirements.
“The increase in revenues and permit fees has been phenomenal,” Gregerson continued. “All this economic development revolves around new infrastructure,” which is largely financed by the Legislature’s 2013 transportation funding package.
“Permits are also the result of our booming economy as we come out of the recession … 2013 was very successful with revenues almost recovered to pre-recession levels.”
Gregerson said the Angle Lake light rail station, in addition to a large parking area, will feature a number of amenities including pedestrian- and bike-friendly facilities that link with the Des Moines Creek Trail, a variety of shops, and a public plaza.
Another significant transportation project that she noted, one that will “unlock five million square feet of land for economic development,” is a new 24th Ave./26th Ave. connector – being developed in cooperation with Sound Transit and the Port – to provide vehicle access from the south to Sea-Tac Airport.
Enhancing SeaTac’s designation as a Tourism Promotion Area – as a significant regional hub with the international airport, light rail, and Interstate 5 – is the addition of lodging facilities with a major expansion at Cedarbrook Lodge and plans to build the Hyatt Place, a new hotel.
She added that last year’s merger of the SeaTac and Kent fire departments was a “seamless transition” that continues to go well.
“It’s been a very eventful year,” Kaplan declared. “Our best days are ahead.”
Delayed time and again by the recession, the Des Moines Creek Business Park immediately south of Sea-Tac Airport “is now ready for development,” Kaplan said. Ground will be broken for both the Phase I and “a lot of” the Phase II projects this year due to “strong tenant interest.”
He expressed appreciation to the Port of Seattle, which owns the business park property, for its cooperation with the city in the development plans.
As Des Moines readies for this construction, the city’s Gateway Project to improve highway access from Pacific Highway S. to the business park just off S. 216th St. is nearing completion and will be finished yet this year.
Kaplan said another major construction project, the five-star Artemis Hotel along Pacific Highway S., is on schedule with foundation work now done – and is expected to open in time for the U.S. Open golf tournament at the new Chambers Bay course near Tacoma in June 2015.
Highline Place Project, a transit-oriented development at Highline Community College adjacent to the planned Sound Transit light rail route, is in the planning stages.
For the first time, he continued, the City Council has selected a contractor to build “a five-acre prime waterfront development” at the Des Moines Marina. The five-story multi-use building will cater to senior living.
Marina expansion “ties in with renovated, historic Beach Park, Kaplan said, where the dining hall – a popular attraction – will be upgraded with an $850 million grant from the Washington State Historical Society.
Significantly, added Kaplan, local crime went down in 2013 and the police department in cooperation with other agencies is targeting human trafficking.
“Our budget improves as the economy improves,” including a marked increase in sales tax revenues, Krakowiak said.
Ninety percent of the condominiums in the long-vacant Town Square condo-retail complex downtown have now been sold – and two new residential complexes, one for senior housing, are planned for development on vacant parcels in Town Square, Krakowiak continued.
“We have a great town center that’s starting to come together,” she observed.
Grant-funded construction of a major water retention facility immediately north of Sea-Tac Airport’s third runway, the acquisition of adjacent properties, and planning for an off ramp from SR 518 to Des Moines Memorial Drive all are readying Burien’s Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA) for economic development there.
And the $10 million Phase II Seahurst Park Rehabilitation Project, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to restore the north beach to its natural state will be completed later this summer.
In addition, Krakowiak added, Burien has grown to the point where it can now bring its public works equipment and facilities in-house. Previously this was contracted with King County.
Of special significance, she also noted, Burien – with its strong arts community – is partnering with the Highline School District for an Arts in Education program.
Major strides were taken in removing criminal activity from Tukwila International Blvd. – improving its character and setting the stage for economic development, something he is “especially proud” of, Haggerton said.
Last August some 400 law enforcement agents converged on an area along the boulevard zoned as an urban renewal area, where they made numerous arrests and seized illegal guns and drugs. The city subsequently legally seized the properties where the illegal activities were taking place.
Now, as part of a city priority “to fulfill our vision,” Tukwila is buying the seized properties, Haggerton said. They will then be demolished, “and we already have several good businesses that want to move” into those locations.
This area neighbors Tukwila Village at Tukwila International Blvd. and S. 144th St., a long-planned six-acre mixed use project for which ground is now expected to be broken this summer, he added. The development is a two-phase housing-condominium project that will be built concurrently.
Going up in the expanded Southcenter Mall area will be three new hotels, Haggerton said, including a 19-story story where Circuit City was located before the company went out of business.
And a nearby pedestrian bridge for both foot traffic and bicycles will be built over the Green River.
Haggerton is pleased with progress made by city staff in implementing the strategic plan of a 2012 task force that focused on ways to provide local services more efficiently and improve communications with the public.
Despite a growing city population, Tukwila has the same number of full-time employees today as 10 years ago, Haggerton noted. This has been accomplished by finding efficiencies to handle the added work load, including “cross-departmental teams to address many issues.”
With many long-term city employees approaching retirement, Tukwila has begun a “succession plan” to replace them – something he encouraged the other mayors to consider.
Haggerton also recounted his recent sobering experience when he visited the Oso mudslide area and told local officials there that communities well south of them are supporting them in any way possible.