On Thursday, March 4, the Kent Downtown Partnership hosted a property owners and commercial real estate agents’ meeting at Bittersweet Restaurant. Sponsored by Valley Bank, the breakfast meeting drew about 55 community members including downtown property owners, commercial brokers, property representatives, business owners, city officials and KDP board members. The mood was enthusiastic and participants were eager to hear what the city is working on in terms of economic development in downtown Kent.
After a welcoming statement from Valley Bank’s Mike Miller and the introduction of participants, Kent’s Economic Development Director Ben Wolters took the floor to discuss the city’s recent successes. He noted the Regional Justice Center, Kent Station, the rail station and ShoWare Center as having been some of the area’s most significant recent developments.
“The city has tried to attract businesses that are game changers,” Wolters said.
He further noted that the ShoWare Center has only been open for 15 months, and has already attracted more than 400,000 visitors to its hockey games, concerts, business fairs and other community events. These numbers are likely to escalate with the addition of the Kent Predators, Kent’s new IFL expansion team. The Predators play their first home game at ShoWare Center on Friday, March 12.
“Looking forward, the city is looking at another game changing opportunity,” Wolters added.
The targeted project is to build a facility for the Federal Aviation Administration which could potentially bring 2,000 employees to Kent – within half a mile of the downtown core. Currently, a dozen municipalities are competing to be considered. The first phase of the process is submitting a letter of interest to the GSA and FAA. The City of Kent has done that and hopes to provide a more detailed proposal in May. If the city advances to the next level of the bidding process, the city will make a presentation and proposal in August, with the final decision coming in December.
Other key projects in the works include Tarragon’s expansion of Green River Community College at Kent Station.
“Tarragon just completed a huge expansion of GRCC, with hundreds of new students, and a lot of energy, excitement and new opportunities,” Wolters said.
He also gave an update on the half-completed parking garage at Smith and Fourth which he called “an incredible legal soap opera.” The property is now in the hands of Washington Federal Savings. To date, there has been some interest in buying that space for office use, but there is no time frame for resolving the issue, developing that property or selling it.
Another meeting highlight included the city’s completion of Town Square Plaza which was an attempt to bridge the historic downtown district with Kent Station. Wolters noted there is still a gap between the two areas, but the city is hoping to do more integration. Wolters also commented that First Avenue is becoming a destination in downtown Kent, with its own personality and flavor.
Wolters said, “It shows what is possible in the rest of downtown if property owners and businesses come together. We are changing the market perception of this place.”
Wolters opened the meeting for questions and comments, and invited property owners to voice their concerns as well as the potential for opportunities. Participants asked about the status of the Howard Hanson Dam, potential flood risk, lack of parking, need for additional ball fields and an aquatic center, the Farmer’s Market, the need for housing in downtown Kent and more.
“What is the long-term vision for downtown Kent?” asked Paul Morford. “The city needs to take on parking. It needs to increase parking on a large scale.”
Wolters wrapped up the meeting by inviting participants to contact him directly with their concerns and ideas. A follow-up meeting is planned for later this spring. To offer your input, contact Ben Wolters at 253-856-5703 or via email.