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Kent mayor praises South 224th Street project, YMCA but questions par 3 future

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, dressed in blue and green to support the Seahawks, delivers her State of the City address on Wednesday, Feb. 5 at the ShoWare Center. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, dressed in blue and green to support the Seahawks, delivers her State of the City address on Wednesday, Feb. 5 at the ShoWare Center.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke hyped the new South 224th Street overpass to be built across Highway 167 and the possibility of a YMCA coming to town during her annual State of the City address.

But Cooke left the future of the city-owned par 3 golf course at the Riverbend Golf Complex up in the air during her 36-minute speech at the Kent Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday at the ShoWare Center.

"The par 3 may or may not exist by next year," Cooke said.

The City Council is considering whether to sell the par 3 course to a developer because proceeds could cover Riverbend's $2.3 million debt, its capital investment needs of about $400,000 per year and its annual operating losses. The complex also includes an 18-hole course, driving range and merchandise shop.

"It's not the money loser by itself but the whole golf course program has been very expensive," Cooke said. "We have to look at where do we cut our losses and how can we best reinvest what we have and yet not cut out the older people that like to use the par 3 or the youth. There's a lot of emotional ties to that and the City Council has a great challenge ahead of it as it works with our parks team and the public to find a solution.

"But I'm very optimistic because I see folks wanting to keep the value of that recreational and educational side of our provision but knowing we can't keep maintaining lands where we don't have the money to maintain them."

Cooke, serving her third and what she says is her final four-year term after being reelected in November, highlighted the recent $5 million state grant to help the city build a 1.8-mile extension of South 224th Street over Highway 167 and up the East Hill to Benson Road.

"Some have said that's a street to nowhere," Cooke said. "I will beg to differ. How many think here you are going to stop the coal trains from running through the Burlington Northern tracks? We have two optimists over here. When those coal trains come in another decade or so no matter how hard we try railroads own this country and they built this country and the country built around them.

"You will see so much congestion at grade crossings that you will want to find another way where you will not be sitting there for 20 minutes for a one-mile train to go by. You will therefore see our 224th and 228th connection much busier because people will choose that route instead of having to go over the tracks."

The cost to build more street-railroad grade separations is too expensive and the city doesn't have the money for those at this time and won't have it without federal or state grants, Cooke said.

"But thanks to the state for the grant to get over the freeway to make that route more accessible for folks," she said.

The city expects to take bids on the 224th Street extension in the fall.

As far as a YMCA in Kent, Cooke introduced Nathan Phillips, recently named regional executive for South King County of the YMCA of Greater Seattle. Phillips will lead efforts to expand the YMCA in the south county area.

"Some folks in the Kent community have approached the YMCA about the possibility of building a location in Kent," Phillips said. "Right now we are in a listening phase and talking to folks about why they think it might work here."

Cooke asked the crowd what they thought of the idea of a YMCA in town and received a round of applause.

"We were skipped over by the Y's, the YM, YW and the boys and girls clubs because the city used to provide it all," Cooke said. "That's not in our future. The city cannot be the provider of all the services. But we can help connect those that do provide the services, privately and nonprofits with the community and help the community embrace them."

Near the end of her address, the mayor said she plans to ask the City Council to establish a Cultural Communities Communication Council to reach out to the diverse population in the city where as many as 138 languages are spoken.

"We are in so much need in learning about each other and those that have come here," she said. "If we don't reach out to them, they're not going to know what to do and how we do it and they are not going to know us."

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