The decrepit building that once housed downtown Federal Way’s former Target is just weeks away from demolition, and in its place, Federal Way is starting the next leg of its most ambitious downtown project in city history.
The demolition process will begin July 17, according to city spokesperson David Solano, but don’t expect a huge explosion set to the “Ride of The Valkyries.” The destruction of the building will be careful and controlled to keep nearby properties safe, according to Public Works Director EJ Walsh. The process is estimated to finish by late July or August.
“It’ll be a very slow methodical demolition, which is really boring, unfortunately,” Walsh said during a public ceremony at the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center (PAEC) June 13 titled “Rising From the Dust.” “But it’s also the safe way to do it. … We are all very happy to see that building coming down. It is a nuisance that we are very happy to be rid of.”
The next step after demolition is the permitting process. Development on the Town Center 3 project may break ground around 2025, Community Development Director Keith Niven said, and if that timeline holds, people could be living at a TC-3 home as early as 2027.
The city shared details on that future of that site at the “Rising” ceremony.
City Senior Planner Chaney Skadsen called it a rare chance for a city to choose what its urban core looks like, and create a more attractive environment for residents and businesses for decades to come.
“We almost have a nearly blank canvas,” she said. “There’s not very many developers knocking on our door right now for redevelopment. But we believe that with this opportunity, it’s going to flip a switch, and there’s going to be a lot of activity and a lot of attention on this hidden gem in South King County.”
The area that is to become Federal Way’s town center — including Town Square Park, the PAEC, the transit center and the old Target building— has changed a lot over the last two decades, and the final vision of that transformation is getting closer:
• The transit center opened in 2006 and will eventually form the southern side of the light rail extension. That process has required the demolition of several former retail buildings, and the downtown light rail station is now estimated to open in 2026, according to the city.
• The PAEC, also known as TC-1, opened in 2017 and replaced the Toys R Us that operated on the property from 1987 through 2006, when the company closed 73 locations nationwide. Federal Way bought the Toys R Us property in 2010 and the city council agreed to the $32 million construction in 2015, following a finding the year before that the project was feasible from the Blue Ribbon Panel assembled to study the project.
• The city designed and built Town Square Park, also known as TC-2, for $2.1 million. The four-acre downtown urban park, formerly home to an AMC movie theater, opened in 2016, around a decade after the city first bought the property for roughly $4 million. The city council has recently amended the capital projects list to include plans for a new city park, as the city expects Town Square Park to become saturated by new residents.
• Finally, in 2014, the city acquired the 7.4-acre old Target building for $8.2 million. That property, once redeveloped, will become TC-3, a mixed-use urban village with residential, retail and community organs. Congressman Adam Smith has requested $2.5 million for the project in federal appropriations after city leaders requested help for funding during the city’s trip to Washington, D.C. Another $3 million of grant funding helped the city knock down a 30-foot wall and build steps connecting the PAEC with Town Square Park directly.
How should the new downtown look? The answer, at least for city leaders, has been a mixed-use blend of housing (including townhouses), commerce, event space and public space comparable in function to Seattle’s University Village.
The city’s chosen design for the space, from Seattle-based Via Architecture, features four main block buildings, a Town Square parklet at the center with an event pavilion, and a focus on pedestrian walkways connecting each of the buildings.
The Federal Way City Council unanimously voted in April 18 to award the TC-3 contract to OneTrent, who will develop the design created by Via Architecture.
“What we’ve always envisioned for a city … is a place where we can live, work and play,” Council president Linda Kochmar said, “so you don’t have to drive two hours, or get on a bus or light rail … to go where you want to go.”
In piecing together the downtown puzzle, Niven told the crowd, the city spoke to an economist as well as architects and community members.
“We wanted to bring a plan forward to the city council that could actually be built,” Niven said. “We had chased in the past … certain projects that were just a little bit outside our reach, which meant they didn’t get built. … Well, the economist came back … and he said, I don’t think (the city’s vision) can happen.”
But the city disagreed, said Niven, who quoted American architect Daniel Burnham: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work.”
“I think those are words to live by,” Niven said. “And to kind of be a testament to the next chapter.”
For the city’s part of TC-3, it will need to build a parking garage to replace the existing surface parking, as well as put together a plaza space.
“We know at a minimum, the city needs to pony up about $35 million to $40 million for a garage and the plaza space,” Niven said in an interview. “We’re working on how to fund that so that it doesn’t increase anybody’s taxes … and I think we have a plan for that.”
The other decisions include: Should City Hall, which city staff are outgrowing, be moved downtown to TC-3? And should the city set aside part of TC-3 as a community space?
Those are decisions the city council will have to make before it completes the sale of the TC-3 properties. Niven said he hopes to have a contract addressing all those matters sent to the council before the end of this year.
Also under consideration is the “dip,” or the idea of lowering South 320th Street near 21st Avenue South to create an at-grade pedestrian crossing connecting the Town Center area with The Commons. There are alternative ideas to improve foot traffic across fast-moving, eight-lane 320th Street. But the status quo won’t cut it for the new residents coming into the area, Mayor Jim Ferrell said.
“Crossing at grade now is not a good idea,” he said.
Trent Mummery, CEO of TC-3 developer One Trent / Trent Development, said that the changes coming to Federal Way’s downtown over the next few years, from light rail to TC-3, will be “transformational.”
“We’ve been wanting to do a development here for many years,” Mummery told The Mirror. “We were grateful to have been selected to to spearhead this one.”
The light rail station was “the catalyst” for One Trent’s interest in developing here, he said. For years, One Trent has developed multifamily projects along bus, rapid ride and light rail lines — sometimes referred to as “transit-oriented development,” or TOD.
And the post-COVID world has seen workers more dispersed from concrete forests like Seattle and Tacoma, meaning suburbs like Federal Way have an opportunity to capture some of those remote workers. Delays in Sound Transit’s light rail service means that Federal Way will likely be the southern terminus of the link system for several years, further setting the city up for opportunity.
Light rail service to downtown Federal Way is now estimated to arrive by 2026, and with TC-3 optimistically opening up as early as 2027, that opportunity is fast approaching.
“It’s going to be a lot of things feeding into Federal Way,” Mummery said. “So we strongly believe that if we can create a critical mass of residents here, that then the office (interest) will follow.”