Thursday, March 05, 2015

Kent, Washington: Mayor Suzette Cooke boasts about Kent's successes, hopes to get Federal Aviation Administration offices

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke hopes to be able to brag even more in a few weeks than she did on Wednesday during her State of the City speech.

The U.S. General Services Administration plans to pick a site on March 30 from among applications from several cities for a 300,000-square-foot Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) facility to handle about 1,600 employees. Kent wants the facility to be built where the city-owned Riverbend Golf Complex's par 3 course now sits.

"The deal is truly a grand slam if we win it," Cooke said to a Kent Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd at the ShoWare Center. "We will receive property tax revenue, permit fees and best of all, there will be 1,600 well-paid employees in our city every day shopping and eating in Kent, enjoying all of the assets that our great city has to offer."

The Kent City Council voted 5-1 in January to approve the conditional sale of the 18.5-acre site to a partnership led by the Texas-based Trammell Crow Company, one of the nation’s leading commercial real estate developers and investors. Cooke said the sale price was $10 million.

"This deal would also allow us a sustainable future for the Riverbend Golf Complex," said Cooke, in her 10th year as mayor. "Not only would we be able to pay off the operating debt (of about $2.6 million), we would finally be able to reinvest in the 18-hole golf course (capital costs estimated at $6 million)."

Cooke emphasized it's a highly competitive fight among several cities to acquire the FAA offices. But she knows what a boost the facility would be to Kent. The new offices are scheduled to open in August 2017.

"Imagine what other economic opportunities this development could attract, this gateway of our community," she said about the Meeker Street site along the Green River.

The mayor spent several minutes boasting about the numerous businesses in the warehouse district and how much she looks forward to the January opening of the new Amazon fulfillment center on property formerly owned by Boeing.

"Amazon is shipping 500 more jobs to Kent when its state-of-the-art, 1.2 million-square-foot-fulfillment center is finished," Cooke said.

Amazon officials plan to use drones to deliver some of the products, the mayor said.

"That might sound controversial to some of us but this technology will likely be as commonplace as our smartphones are today," she said.

The two new downtown apartment complexes, one finished and one under construction, received plenty of praise from Cooke. The Platform Apartments, along West Smith Street and Fourth Avenue North, are 70 percent leased since opening in October.

"As our first community urban-style, urban-quality, multifamily housing project, it has set the new standard for downtown living," Cooke said. "The 172 units translates to over 250 people that weren't downtown before. These people will help ensure restaurants are full on Wednesday nights not just on weekends or when there are ShoWare Center events."

Seattle developer Tarragon is building the 154-unit Kent Station Apartments along Fourth Avenue North, on the same property as the shopping center and just a block up from The Platform Apartments. The Kent Station Apartments are expected to be finished in spring 2016.

"Their building is valued at over $15 million, an investment that will further enliven Kent's downtown," Cooke said.

Cooke admitted, however, that not everything is rosy in the city. She said city finances remain a challenge because budgets are no longer sustainable with the annual 1 percent limit on property tax increases.

"The budget unanimously passed (in December) by council addressed a general fund shortfall of about $2.3 million this year and a $3.9 million shortfall in 2016," she said. "While I proposed a higher B&O tax, the council instead chose modest increases in property taxes and permit fees. Even with these changes, the structural deficit remains."

The mayor said she and the council soon will form a 15-member task force to recommend what the city's service delivery model should look like in the future.

Cooke didn't touch on how to address the more than $3.2 million operating deficit at the city-owned ShoWare Center since it opened in 2009, including a record-setting loss of $752,324 in 2014. She said the arena has plenty of economic impact on Kent.

"One thing to always keep in mind as we look at the finances of this facility, its activities are pumping an average of $23 million a year into our local economy," she said.

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Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke delivers her State of the City speech on Wednesday at the ShoWare Center.— Image Credit: Steve Hunter, Kent Reporter

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