Civic center: Either you’re growin’ or you’re dyin’Many of you may have read about the City’s discussions regarding the construction of a new civic complex on Grade Road. It was hard to miss in last Wednesday’s Herald, under a headline proclaiming “Dream campus comes at a hefty price.” At last week’s Council meeting, the City showed off plans for a new multi-purpose civic center that would contain the nerve center of the City Police, Fire, City offices, and Emergency Operations Center and a new Sno-Isle library. During the meeting, preliminary development costs were discussed. The author knew a big number when he saw it, and was quick to mention a $25 million price tag.
The article continued to paint a blurry picture of how the proposed civic center would be financed. Land trades? Bonds? Taxation? Just how will Lake Stevens pay for it? A fair question, but one that deserves deeper consideration.
First, many make the mistake of assuming the Fire District and the City are one and the same. These are two separate entities joining forces to create a better scale of economy so when the author quoted the $3.4 million price tag of a new fire station that he claimed ‘Lake Stevens’ would pay for, it isn’t explained that the Fire District like the School District raises its own monies through levies and bonds.
Second, critics of the plan often neglect to mention the value of current holdings. The City, Fire District are not attempting to purchase additional land in an attempt to win at Monopoly. They want to get off their existing land holdings in order to co-locate at a more efficient spot. Any negotiation of the plan’s cost must take into account the value of the property on which City Hall sits arguably the best piece of undeveloped lake-front property in the entire UGA. By way of comparison, the old Drainage District property on Vernon Road recently sold for over $5 million. The City Hall property is nearly three times as big, with a better commercial and residential location.
From what I understand, the City wants to move in order to open up this land for development. And before we all get excited about the “d” word, remember that were not talking about LDMR condos we’re talking about a mixed-use downtown revitalization. City officials would be wise to shoot for increased lake access, a boardwalk, and hotel/restaurant and retail tenants with condos above. The value of such a project (and the resale value of the current modular police station buildings and land) could quite easily set off the cost of the move and prompt the revitilazation of downtown we’ve been discussing for so long.
Look, the $25 million mentioned is a huge sum. But we are a growing city with a ton of assets. This is about planning for the future planning for a City that will contain 40,000 people in 15 years! We’ve just annexed Frontier Village and the commercial tax revenues are beginning to roll in. More annexation is on the way. Part of the annexation process part of the growth process is delivering a better product to the citizens who’ve left the County to join our City. That’s what this is really about.
If we think a little further than just tomorrow, we’ll thank the leaders of the Fire Department, Police Department, library and the City for their foresight in this matter. The co-location of the City’s resources will add up to huge savings to taxpayers over time. Think of all the cost duplication involved in separately operating each entity individually separate power costs, separate IT costs, separate insurance costs, separate water and sewer costs not to mention the loss of land inventory caused by operating out of five separate locations (library, fire, police, city, emergency management). Now think of the efficiency and savings we will enjoy by joining forces.
All of this is just fiscal talk but what about the sense of community and civic responsibility demonstrated by the leaders Lake Fire, LSPD, the City and the library? This project has been a long time coming, and the cooperation involved is the stuff communities are made of.
Keeping the forward momentum on this project is vital. Construction prices are rising at least 10 percent per year, as are our local land values. You think $25 million sounds expensive? Well, if we wait, say another election cycle the cost of a similar plan could easily balloon to $40 million or more if a similar piece of land was even available!
Luckily, we have the chance to enjoy the ‘dream campus’. The public overwhelmingly voiced support for this concept in a series of public meetings last fall. Area leaders met last December and reaffirmed that building the Civic Center was the number one priority for our community. The City of Lake Stevens traveled to Olympia, petitioned the Senate for help, and walked away with a cool million in State funding. Now that plans have progressed and the agencies have joined forces in a unique showing of cooperation, the chances of more State funding in the future are markedly increased.
Listen it’s easy to sit in the bushes and takes shots at a plan like this. Just the price tag alone is enough to scare off the uninitiated. However, the cost of not taking action now while the City has the opportunity to act, the backing of a public process, and the right piece of property to develop could be an error that we regret for years to come.
Somebody famous once said “Either you’re growin’, or you’re dyin’”. For over 40 years, Lake Stevens sat in the corner of the lake and died. The “us four and no more” attitude embodied by past leaders cost us the opportunity to control our own destiny as a City.
Through the combined efforts of current leaders we control our own fate once again. If we make bold moves, work together, and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, then our historic downtown will blossom once again. The redevelopment of downtown as a commercial and civic center will allow the South Lake region to become the upscale commercial center it’s striving to be, and the continued growth of Frontier Village will provide the revenue streams necessary to give us the parks, services, protections and leadership becoming of the fourth-largest city in the state’s fastest growing county.
It’s time for our kum-bah-yah moment. We don’t need anymore Seattle-based political groups suing the City. We don’t need unsafe and unsightly LDMR eyesores polluting our landscape. We don’t need lake front property tied up by outdated administration buildings.
We do need the teamwork and foresight exhibited by our Fire District, Police Department, and our City Staff/Council/Mayor. We do need to complete the annexation around the lake, and work towards the “One Community Around the Lake” goal.
Let’s take the opportunity to do it right this time. Let’s build for tomorrow and not today. Let’s get this Civic Center done and done right.
Kevin Hulten maintains the Off the Record blog at www.lakestevensjournal.com. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org