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From the City Manager: The Civic Center Concept and Economic/Community Development

A City-funded Civic Center is one way to reinvest in the Mill Creek community, create a sense of place and be a catalyst for economic development.
A City-funded Civic Center is one way to reinvest in the community. Photo credit: City of Mill Creek.

Editor’s note: This article is being reproduced with the permission of Ken Armstrong, Mill Creek City Manager, at no cost to the City of Mill Creek as a public service. It will also be published in the fall edition of the Mill Creek Current newsletter.

By Ken Armstrong, Mill Creek City Manager.

In the last edition of this magazine (Mill Creek Current – Summer 2013), I wrote about some economic and community development ideas here in Mill Creek.  Included in that discussion was a description of one City-funded possibility, which was first presented to the Mill Creek City Council in April 2013.  This scenario was and still is in its very early stages and the process of taking this idea from the conceptual phase to reality will take years.  Additionally, the idea we presented was just a way to start the conversation and was not meant to be the only way forward for how the City might reinvest in the community, create a sense of place and be a catalyst for economic development.  The conceptual scenario, as presented, includes:

  • City acquisition of property in proximity to the existing City Hall/Town Center to facilitate construction of a new City Hall, provide new retail/office space and additional public parking.
  • Redevelopment of existing City properties.
  • Renovating the existing City Hall into a Community Center.
  • Razing the City Hall Annex and creating an open area that would serve as a public gathering area for daily use as well as for community events (e.g. concerts, farmers markets, festivals, etc.).
  • A new stand-alone Police Station at the site of the existing Sno-Isle public library.

Over the past four months, I have discussed this topic with many Mill Creek residents and have made presentations to various community groups.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive.  People quickly grasp the value and merit of the idea and are supportive of doing something along these lines.  That said, legitimate questions and concerns have been raised, which will need to be addressed over the coming months.  These questions include:

1. What benefit would City residents realize?  This investment by the City would:

  • Stimulate and complement private sector investments in economic and community development efforts that are in keeping with community values.
  • Create a sense of place, a Mill Creek hallmark that complements other developments within the City (e.g. Town Center, Gateway Building, etc.)
  • Create a public gathering place for community events and for day-to-day enjoyment by Mill Creek families.
  • Increase commercial and residential property values in Mill Creek.
  • Attract new businesses to Mill Creek.
  • Additional public parking for downtown visitors.

2. How does this help stimulate economic and community development?  

  • Our discussions with commercial property owners in the area of Mill Creek south of City Hall indicate that they would be more willing to redevelop their properties if they observed the City making serious plans to also invest in the community.
  • Real world experience shows that public-private redevelopment efforts work.  The City of Bothell is a great example.  When completed, Bothell’s redevelopment (also a public-private effort) will have enhanced their community by bringing in new investments and businesses, providing new public facilities and amenities and attracting visitors to their downtown area.

3. Why do we need a new City Hall and Police Station?   

  • The City has simply outgrown the existing City Hall.  There is insufficient office, meeting or storage space.  This condition exists for both the Police Department as well as the other City departments and it directly affects our ability to conduct every-day business functions – such as:  interview crime witnesses/victims in an appropriate fashion, store evidence and impounded vehicles properly, store public works equipment and material, hold staff and/or public meetings, and so on.
  • The existing City Hall, originally built as a warehouse, is 30 years old and cannot be easily expanded.  Construction of new facilities would meet the City’s long-term (i.e. 30-50 years) public facility needs.

4. What would something like this cost?  Because this is just one concept and may not represent a final proposal – it is a little hard to say.  A rough cost estimate of accomplishing all of the elements described above probably would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million.  Lease revenues from the new office/retail spaces as well as from development fees and increased sales and property tax revenues from newly redeveloped commercial properties would offset these costs.

5. How would this be paid for?   Any public project of this magnitude would be funded by a voter-approved bond.  So, the people of Mill Creek will have a direct say as to whether or not this concept becomes reality.

6. Will businesses, commercial property owners and members of the public be involved in the planning process?  Yes.  City staff are developing a strategy for engaging all community stakeholders. 

  • The first step will be to meet with local business and commercial property owners.  We are doing this to get their ideas and input on ways to redevelop underutilized commercial properties in the City and do it in a responsible fashion and in keeping with the community’s values and character.  This work will be done this summer and fall.
  • The next step will be to hold community forums to hear directly from Mill Creek residents regarding their thoughts and recommendations about this idea.

7. What about property owners whose property may be affected?  The City’s Community Development Director and I have met with the owners of the two properties identified in our conceptual scenario.  They both see the merit of this idea and are not opposed to working with the City to see this idea come to fruition.  Their primary concern is that their tenants not be harmed economically in the process.

8. What happens to those businesses that might be displaced?  The City shares the concerns the property owners have for their tenants.  Our priority will be to keep these businesses in Mill Creek.  The scenario described at the top of this article envisions a multi-story City Hall that will accommodate current and future City staff/services, while leaving office/retail space that can be rented to businesses.  The scenario also includes redeveloping one of the parcels exclusively for office, retail and perhaps residential use.

Stay tuned for more.  As I mentioned earlier, this will be a lengthy process and we are just at square one.  Please feel free to call or email me – you can also stop by and see me if you want to talk about this issue.

You can contact Ken at 425-921-5724 or at kena@cityofmillcreek.com.

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