Construction is expected to start next spring on the nearly 500 apartments in Kent that will replace the city-owned Riverbend Golf Complex par 3 course.
Auburn-based FNW, Inc./Landmark Development Group plans to build Marquee on Meeker in two phases, according to city officials. The first phase will include 288 apartments, the second phase 204 units. Some apartments could be ready to rent as soon as spring 2019.
The City Council is scheduled to vote Aug. 15 on a 10-year development agreement with FNW, Inc., that specifies exterior and interior design standards, retail and commercial space requirements, fees and other development conditions.
The purchase and sale agreement is scheduled to close on Sept. 1, City Attorney Tom Brubaker told the council during a presentation Tuesday night. The council voted 5-2 in May to sell the property for $10.5 million to the Auburn developer. Council members Dennis Higgins and Dana Ralph voted against the sale.
“The developer has already deposited $500,000 earnest money on this development agreement,” Brubaker said.
Four people showed up to testify at a public hearing Tuesday in front of the council about the development agreement. Two people spoke about bicycle lanes, one about hiring contractors and another man spoke against the project and agreement.
“I’m active on social media on this project and I’m not for it at all,” said Richard O’Neill, of Kent. “I’m concerned they are allowing or even listening to an 11th-hour change of mixed use and how much will be used for retail and commercial.”
O’Neill made that remark in response to city staff descriptions about how city code requires as much as 24,000 square feet of retail/commercial space for a residential development the size of Marquee on Meeker. But the development agreement calls for only 12,000 square feet.
Council members Ralph and Jim Berrios questioned city staff about the reduction.
“We set that number for a reason and now we’ve got a rule in place that we’re not holding ourselves to,” Ralph said. “I’m curious what the thought process was.”
Ben Wolters, city economic and community development director, explained the change to Ralph.
“It’s recognition of market conditions,” Wolters said. “We are seeing a dramatic transformation of the retail industry in our country. People’s shopping habits are changing. Everyone is going online. There is simply less demand for square footage of retail. That said, we are seeing strength in retail and commercial in places where you have a mix of uses and through development you create a place where people want to go. We felt this project was achieving that goal. …We didn’t want a situation with a lot of vacant commercial space there.”
The developers and city staff expect that restaurants will want to open at Marquee on Meeker with its outdoor plaza designs and that 12,000 square feet would be enough to handle restaurants and something such as a coffee shop.
“If we can create convenience in that community that would be the preference from my perspective,” Berrios said. “And from a revenue standpoint, we talk about the benefits of ShoWare to restaurants when there are shows there, so are we losing out on potential revenues by cutting it by 50 percent?”
Wolters responded that Kent could have too many restaurants to support.
“There’s a real possibility here of overbuilding,” Wolters said. “There are several studies in the United States that there is an excess amount of retail and we are seeing shopping centers and other commercial areas close. … I think as large as this is (12,00 square feet) gives a lot of opportunity to meet the needs of people who will be living there. … And these are folks who will be supporting restaurants and stores downtown along Meeker Street.”
The council approved trying to sell the par 3 property in 2014 to help eliminate the city’s enterprise golf fund debt of nearly $4 million and allow for about $6 million in capital improvements to the 18-hole course across the street from the par 3 as a way to draw more players to boost revenue at the complex, which includes a driving range and pro shop. Riverbend loses about $300,000 per year.