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Kent Mayor Cooke raves about ShoWare in State of the City speech

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke delivers her State of the City address Wednesday at the Meridian Valley Country Club. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke delivers her State of the City address Wednesday at the Meridian Valley Country Club.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke sang the praises of the ShoWare Center during her annual State of the City address Wednesday at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Meridian Valley Country Club.

Cooke pointed out that there's been a lot of talk about the city-owned arena losing $1.3 million during its first three years of operation. But she added it's because of the arena that Kent attracted a major event such as the Skate America figure skating competition last fall that attracted about 15,000 visitors.

"When you look at events like this and what it brings in – this was a special event unlike the Thunderbirds (hockey team) and regular events that keep our economy going – it brought in $460,000 over three days and (look at) how much that eats away at a $750,000 annual loss," Cooke said. "I think that's pretty amazing."

Cooke said more than two million television viewers tuned in to NBC to watch the Pandora Unforgettable Moments of Love on Ice featuring Barry Manilow in January at the ShoWare Center.

"It's a regional center and really meets up with what the council set as a goal to have a regional attraction here in Kent," she said. "So while we are driving economic development with ShoWare and while it is bringing in taxes through the ripple effect, we are working with (operator) SMG to take a new approach to be a financial partner with some of these big shows we are planning to attract. Without the risk, you don't get the reward. We are going to be more of a player."

In an effort to cut losses, city officials agreed to put money up front to help bring in higher-profile concerts and shows this year to the arena that opened in 2009. The arena's revenue losses each year are covered by the city's general budget, money that could be spent on other projects if the arena made money or broke even.

On other topics, Cooke said Goodman Real Estate will begin construction soon to build 164 apartments with retail on the main floor at the corner of Fourth Avenue North and West Smith Street at the site of the now demolished half-built parking garage. She said Goodman plans to call the complex The Platform, after the nearby bus and train transit centers and the Kent Station shopping mall.

"By the summer of 2014 residents of Kent will be coming home to The Platform," Cooke said. "Goodman also is working with a nationally branded retail tenant to occupy the commercial space at the southeast intersection of Fourth and Smith and will design the project to allow for outdoor seating at the corner."

Cooke did not name the potential tenant. She also said a new restaurant tenant that she couldn't reveal yet plans to move this summer into the old U.S. Post Office downtown at Second Avenue and Gowe Street with renovations to include a kitchen, bar and outdoor dining.

A grass-roots campaign has started to bring a YMCA to Kent, Cooke said. The city looked at bringing the YMCA to town a few years ago when city officials wanted to build a new aquatic center, but plans fell apart because of a lack of money.

"We have a fledgling group of people interested in attracting a YMCA here including the people in charge of the YMCA," Cooke said. "If any of you have an interest in seeing the YMCA coming to Kent, let myself know. We are not in charge of this but this has to be a community grass roots effort if it's going to happen."

The city of Kent provided the following complete text of Cooke's speech:

The address can be seen viewed daily on Comcast Cable Channel 21 beginning March 13 – 27 at 5 a.m. and p.m.  It can also be viewed online, anytime at KentTV21.com beginning March 13.

“Thank you Jasmyne Lujan for sharing your talent with us today.  Jasmyne, a senior at Kent Meridian High School, is the granddaughter of Roberto and Aricelli Gonzales, owners of Mexico Lindo.  She’s also the daughter of Marta Gonzales, a six-year City of Kent employee.  Thank you for joining me to hear the state of our city.”

“Businesses and stock traders are not the only ones who look for a high return in investment – so do cities and the public they serve.

“You may measure your ROI by net profit or accrued interest.  Some people measure it as an outcome of their time spent, as in mentoring children or accomplishing a task.

“My dad taught me the value of investing in a business. His ROI was primarily the self-satisfaction of owning a business – something his family had not accomplished, and using his knowledge to serve others. He also taught me that returns on investment can change due to factors outside of one’s controls. In his pharmacy’s case, the shift to one-way streets, a new medical clinic on the outskirts of town, and market competition with chain discount drug stores ended his dream. The pharmacy became an investment he just couldn’t afford anymore.

“In some ways, Kent, too, has been dramatically affected by forces and decisions outside of our control. To name a few, not only has an increase in on-line shopping and the long - but temporary – economic recession depleted our revenue, Streamlined Sales Tax has taken a permanent bite out of our revenues - to the tune of $5 million a year.

“You can see the dramatic impact on this slide.

“The “Kent Efficiency Study” just published by Berk & Associates, reported that Kent’s sales tax base is now the lowest among our peer cities. The Efficiency Study went on to say that “the City is already operating efficiently across both internal and direct service functions,” but “staff are spread thinly and are concerned about their ability to maintain service levels in the long term.”

“This chart shows the total number of city FTE positions and each year’s per capita rate. We went from a high of 803 positions in 2007, or 9.3 staff per capita, to 630 positions in 2012, or 5.3 staff per capita. While a significant contributor to the drop is the public’s approval to transfer the fire department into a separate taxing district - called a Fire Authority, the net drop in FTEs was still 107 positions over five years.

“It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” In our case, we have had to reduce some levels of service, and are having to re-invent how we do business. More on that topic later.

“Other changes that stretch our bottom line include technology advancements (they are expensive to license!), the transfer of animal control from the County, and a shift in regulations by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency that affect the status of our Green River levees.

“Perhaps the most notable change can be seen in our population.

“Over the past decade we have increased our ethnic minority population from 32% to 50%.  The people represented by the numbers are behind the City Council’s strategic goal to Foster Inclusiveness. You can experience a sense of our demographic shift at this June’s International Festival at Town Square Plaza. And our staff is participating in a new diversity training model that focuses on RESPECT.

“But one thing hasn’t changed: Kent remains a family-oriented city.  Here’s a glimpse of the 4,000 residents who attended You Me We last Friday at ShoWare Center.

“Now, let’s get back to your return on investment.

“It is clear that the economy is turning around. An example can be found in building permit comparisons.

“In 2011, there were 253 commercial permits issued with a valuation of $33 million.  Last year, while there were 44 more permits issued, their accumulative value increased to $60.25 million.  It’s worth noting that of the $60 million value, $55 million of it was located in the Kent Valley.

“While we’re on the subject of permits, obtaining a plumbing, mechanical or re-roof permit also got simpler and faster since the city launched its on-line permit system last October.

“Showing a major vote of confidence in our economy and in the Kent Valley, the IDS Real Estate Group and its Clarion Partners purchased more than 70 acres for warehouses from the Boeing Company.  They intend to construct an approximate 1.5 million square foot business park on site valued at $30 million, with construction starting this spring.

“In line with another strategic goal of the City Council, Create Connections for People and Places, a consortium of Valley cities, (Kent, Auburn, Renton and Tukwila) is working with Integra, one of the largest facilities-based providers of communication and networking services in the western United States, to establish a fiber optic run that stretches from our north and south boarders.   This City will be afforded fiber optics strands that can be utilized to connect public facilities like City Hall and Valley Communications Center.

“As the private partner in the effort, Integra will be positioned to provide data and voice transport services to private companies along the eventual service route.  All of this eventually leads to the enhanced ability to connect public and private facilities to high speed Internet and voice services.

“Even with the new B&O tax, Valley RV of Auburn relocated to Kent on March 1st. Now called Valley RV Supercenter, they are the regional dealer for the Jayco line of RVs and will be an excellent addition to our business community.

“The new owner of Kent’s downtown ‘Post Office’ building will begin a major renovation project on the property early this summer. While we are not able to name the tenant just yet, the renovations will include a kitchen, bar and an expansive new outdoor dining patio along 2nd Avenue.

“My staff is working with the owner to include a signature identity at the intersection of 2nd Avenue & Gowe Street. This reinvestment is just another example of how the downtown core is gaining momentum and attracting capital from our long range planning efforts.

“Speaking of food, beef jerky from Kent-based Oberto Brands came out of top of a taste test in this month’s issue of Consumer Reports!  Way to go Oberto…we love having this national company based right here!

“And good food and snacks are always better with handcrafted-in-Kent beer!  Congratulations to Airways Brewing Company who will celebrate its 3rd anniversary this weekend!  Alex and Dione Dittmar wanted me to tell you you’re all invited to their party this Saturday!  Kindly leave the kids at home though, this is a 21 and over affair.

“And they have a lot to celebrate!  Along with an interview soon to be aired on NPR, they’re launching 3 new tasty brews for us here, and also for their fans in Japan.  In spite of the economy, their business continues to grow, so much so, they anticipate being at full capacity at both their brewery and bistro by this summer.

“They’re exploring their expansion plans now.  While the Dittmar’s wish they could be here today, they’ve got a big party to plan.  Congratulations to them and to Airways Brewing!

“Heritage Bank has long wanted a presence in the downtown core, and has broken ground on a new site at the corner of 4th and James.

“The redevelopment of our downtown continues.  Goodman Real Estate is excited to move forward with its Kent City Center project.  They will brand this transit oriented development as “The Platform”.  The name is an acknowledgement to the development’s proximity to the commuter line station and to the vibrant Kent Station retail center.  By next summer, residents of Kent will be “coming home to The Platform!”

“Goodman is working with a nationally branded retail tenant to occupy the commercial space at the intersection of 4th and Smith.  As part of the design process, they are adjusting the building to allow for outdoor seating which will further activate that corner.  We are excited about this opportunity and the vitality it will bring to The Platform.

“Since their initial submission, they have made a few modifications to the plan.  Most notable, a roof top amenity will be incorporated for residents to enjoy.  These amenities we have included in our other developments have been tremendous additions to those communities and we are excited to add one at The Platform.

“Goodman Real Estate has numerous projects under development in the Seattle metropolitan region.  They are particularly excited to be the first new multifamily project in downtown Kent and are looking forward to The Platform becoming an integral part of the city.

“Who else is coming to Kent?

“Don't be surprised if you see mouse ears on 200+ people June 7 at Turnkey Park on the East Hill. Kent has been selected for another KaBOOM community playground, and our funding partner is The Walt Disney Company!   Given this is our second win from KaBoom in less than two years; obviously they’re impressed with our know-how and get it done attitude.

“Another strategic goal of the City Council is to Create Unique Urban Centers.  This will be a central theme as revisit the boundaries of Kent’s 24 Neighborhood Councils.  Most were formed around a particular concern such as traffic, code enforcement or a desired improvement in the immediate area.

“Kent’s growing population, combined with limited staff to support constituent relations in each Neighborhood Council prompts us to engage residents beyond small neighborhoods – to mobilizing people for leadership and decision-making on a grander scale.

“Speaking of activities in neighborhood districts, the momentum continues toward revitalizing the East Hill.  The citizen group, Kent East Hill Revitalization or KEHR, will focus on maintaining clean public spaces, while also searching for ways to engage kids and families.

“It seems no State of the City speech is complete without mention of the Green River Levees.  With Howard Hansen Dam operating at full capacity, we declared the Valley open for business again when we removed the giant sandbags last July.

“The Flood Market Assistance Plan that was activated to help businesses obtain excess flood insurance beyond the National Flood Insurance limits was dissolved.  It was a tremendous partnership between this Chamber and the City that helped establish the plan in the first place.  I’d like to thank the Chamber for working with us, and Ken Sharp for representing our community’s interests in this plan.  I’m thrilled it has been deemed no longer necessary.

“I can finally breathe a sigh of relief with the approval last week by the King County Flood Control District Board of Supervisors to go with Kent’s plan to fix the Briscoe-Desimone Levee.

“The Briscoe-Desimone Levee between South 180th and 200th streets has weak spots that don’t meet federal standards. But the stakes are higher than whether or not to fix the weak spots.

“Besides Boeing, the levee protects the Starbucks roasting plant, IKEA, the Alaska Airlines call center and other businesses where more than 18,000 people work. The levee also protects highways, railroad lines, electrical transmission lines and a gasoline pipeline.

“If the levee isn’t repaired soon, federal officials could expand the flood plain map in much of the Green River Valley from Auburn to Tukwila.

“This would mean property owners in the West Coast’s second largest warehouse district would have to buy flood insurance. Property owners, like the IDS Real Estate Group reference earlier, also would face stricter development regulations.

“The Board’s 8-0 vote paves the way for a cost-effective, environmentally beneficial fix. It also will lead to levee accreditation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will mean lower insurance premiums for residents and businesses.

“The $17.5 million project, rather than the $74 million proposed by the County Executive, will be funded by a $7 million state grant with the rest coming from flood district revenues.

“I can’t thank this Chamber for your partnership and support on this critical issue. Thank you to the Property Owners for Sensible Flood Plain Regulations for their efforts and support in working to protect this Valley from onerous costs and regulations.

“And many thanks to The Lakes Neighborhood Council for flexing your residential muscle in making a difference for your own community. Your communication with the Board of Supervisors really got their attention and bolstered our efforts.  This is perfect example of what residents can do when they work together for the betterment of our community. This is a great example of what we hope to see more of as we move our Neighborhood Program forward with bigger districts.

“Carlisle Interconnect Technologies relocated from Tukwila last September.  They needed more space that could accommodate their parking and their growth plans.  We were happy to help them out.  This aerospace company is the market leader in providing cable assemblies for in-flight entertainment systems and is now one of our city’s largest employers with over 800 employees; they expect to increase their employment even more in the coming year.

“Speaking of things perking up, Starbucks announced late in 2011 they were not only making tens of millions of dollars of upgrades at its roasting plant, but they would move its Tazo Tea operations from Portland to Kent.  I was thrilled to co-host its ribbon cutting with executives and employees in January at this world class manufacturing and distribution facility.   Consolidation of their west coast operations brought 50 new jobs to Kent.

“It was an honor for Kent to be chosen as the host city for the Hilton HHonors Skate America event last fall. Having 52 world-class skating champions at ShoWare Center, and bringing with them interest by 70 TV, print and radio journalists from around the world, helped put ourselves on the map as a major sports and entertainment destination.

“We rolled out the red carpet for 15,000 visitors that weekend and impact was significant. People came from 37 states, and from Canada, Japan, Denmark and Singapore. Nearly 30% of attendees required lodging, staying an average of 2.8 nights, spending $116 per night. Also, direct spending from dining and shopping in our region is estimated to exceed $461,000 during the three-day event.

“Not only did visitors enjoy Kent and ShoWare Center, the athletes did too. Have a look at what Olympic gold medalist Ben Agosto has to say about Kent in this promotional spot, seen by 2.5 million NBC TV viewers during Pandora Unforgettable Moments of Love on Ice featuring Barry Manilow, just this January.

“In spite of the rumblings by naysayers, ShoWare Center is helping drive economic development in Kent since opening its doors in 2009.  Taxpayers are seeing a strong return on their investment.

“And independent study concluded the facility “is a regional magnet, attracting more than one million visitors to Kent for sports events, entertainment, conferences, civic events and more.  All told, ShoWare Center patrons spent an estimated $12.1 million at local businesses with a ripple effect of $25.1 million in 2011.   This spending contributed $609,700 in tax revenues to the city annually.

“It’s no secret the national recession and the negative impact it’s had on the event industry has caused an operating loss of $1.3 million over the past three years.  Despite this loss, ShoWare Center has been helping our local economy recover.

“In continuing these efforts, our arena operator SMG has recommended, due to the change in the concert promotion business, that ShoWare Center participate as a financial partner to attract enough events to have a chance for future revenue growth.

“While we’re talking about risk and rewards, Kent was the only recipient in Washington last year to receive a Brownfield Assessment Grant.  This $400,000 federal grant will help to identify sites that have possible environmental issues, like gas stations, assist private developers redevelop sites.

“With the purchase of the municipal court building, Kent is now providing court and probation services to the City of Maple Valley and possibly other jurisdictions in the future.

“Kent was able to move our probation department into the court building. This provides increased security to city and court users.

“The Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center now houses the King County District Court, providing more visitors to Kent and downtown business.

“Speaking of downtown, imagine what Downtown Kent might look like 5, 10, or even 20 years from now.  That’s exactly what a Downtown Steering Committee has been doing over the past year as we work to update Kent’s Downtown Subarea Action Plan.

“Members of this committee that are here, would you please stand.  My hearty thanks go to this 13 member committee including city board and council members, representatives from the Chamber and Kent Downtown Partnership, as well as residents, who have been looking at our downtown to see what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done to continue successes like Kent Station, ShoWare Center and Town Square Plaza.

“Up next is the review of proposals that would encourage more people living downtown, increase building heights to 5-stories, expand guidelines to ensure attractive development, and an even more streamlined development process.  Changes are coming to Kent folks, and you can still be a part of shaping Kent’s future.  By providing your input, you’re adding value to the process. Get all the details at VentureDowntownKent.com.

“Speaking of providing value, this month, the City will host its first workshop on LEAN. We’re taking a hard look at our expenditure of staff resources and the end value provided for our customers.  And, we’re targeting a very public process – permitting.  Streamlining our permit process has been a top priority when I first ran for this job.  On behalf of the City, I’d like to thank Mike Moran of Cascade Gasket for offering his time and expertise to show us the way.

“I’ll conclude my remarks today with this.  Kent is a safe city.  Public safety is the paramount service municipal government provides.  And your safety is our top priority.  While the number of auto thefts in King County is the third highest in the nation, Kent has the second lowest auto theft rate we’ve seen over the past five years.

“Cars being broken into have always been a frustration for residents.  Last year, the rate for vehicle prowls was once again the second lowest that we have seen over the past five years.  Street robberies, assaults, and other violent crimes are at the lowest rates that we have seen over the past six years.

“The tragic shootings at Newtown Elementary have many thinking of the security of our children.  Our police department expanded its partnership with the Kent School District where we’re sharing the cost of the placement of School Resource Officers in four of our schools in the city.

“They’re also working together to put a “Cops in Schools” program in place, where officers adopt an elementary school in their beat and stop by several times per week to get to know school staff and students.  This is a no-cost way to expand community policing and provide a sense of safety and security at our elementary schools.

“We are well on our way to the reaching the City Council’s Strategic Goal:

“Kent is a safe, connected and beautiful city, culturally vibrant with richly diverse urban centers.

“It is a great return on your investment.

“Thank you all for coming.”

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