Foss Waterway Development Authority seeks funding from city

Weathering through a faltering economy with developers struggling to obtain financing, Foss Waterway Development Authority (FWDA) is seeking funding from the city of Tacoma to balance its budget through the end of the year. FWDA officials explained their situation during Tacoma City Council's study session on March 30.

FWDA is requesting $170,000. This is significantly lower than the $300,000 figure the organization was considering asking for last October, shortly after Prium Companies walked away from its plan to develop property south of Albers Mill. It had planned a mixed-use project, but dropped the idea after the recession began to take a toll on the Tacoma-based developer. FWDA had expected to make $2 million from the project.

FWDA was established by the city government to manage 27 acres on Thea Foss Waterway it purchased from Burlington Northern Railroad in the early 1990s. The first operating agreement between the two entities was done in 1997. A second agreement followed soon after. They are now operating under the third agreement, reached in 2000 and expected to last just two years. It spells out development strategies, recording requirements and other matters.

"It has been a productive and positive relationship over the years," said Su Dowie, who is serving as interim executive director. She is one of two FWDA employees. The third, Don Meyer, stepped down as executive director at the end of last year when he retired upon his election to Port of Tacoma Commission.

Five of the seven members of the FWDA Board were in attendance. One, George Weyerhaeuser, noted that developing remaining vacant parcels is taking longer than would have been expected prior to the onset of the recession. "It is going to take another 10 years," he said.

"Retail is struggling," Dowie remarked.

Negotiations are underway for a new operating agreement, which should be ready to ratify in a few months.

Dowie would like it to be six years, as it could be difficult to hire a permanent executive director if the agreement is for less time.

Dowie discussed goals for 2010, including finishing some capital projects and expanding partnerships for increasing tourism.

There was some discussion on the political overtones of decisions about development. This became apparent last year on site four, which has been slated for a boutique hotel. A Seattle hotelier was unable to acquire financing for a hotel and condominium project and walked away last year. The Hollander family, which operates the Courtyard by Marriott downtown, positioned itself to build two hotels on the parcel but ran into opposition from some council members and the hotel workers' union. FWDA Board supported the Hollander plan.

Weyerhaeuser said it is difficult to keep politics out of the process. "We leave the politics to you," he told the council.

Councilmember David Boe expressed interest in improved access to the waterway, be it public transit or walking.

"I love Foss Waterway. You just cannot get there from downtown. It is still an undiscovered country."

The FWDA Board will examine the agency's future during its annual retreat on April 23.


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