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Women Mayors Discuss The Importance of Continued Leadership in the Puget Sound Region at CREW Seattle Event

Seattle, CREW Seattle, Puget Sound region, Mercer Island, Issaquah, Kent, Arlington, industrial/logistics, aerospace, gender equality
Mercer Island. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Jack Stubbs

Cities throughout the Puget Sound region continue to grow. And as the wider region continues to expand, it is becoming an increasingly important moment in time for different perspectives to be brought to the table.

“This is without a doubt an incredible moment in our history and our future; the growth that we’re experiencing as a region is unprecedented, and it’s exciting and challenging at the same time. When we disaggregate that growth by city, county and neighborhood and [by] race, ethnicity and gender, we get a very different picture. Different stories can be told across the board,” said Rebecca Lowell, acting director of the office of economic development in Seattle, who moderated a recent event held in downtown Seattle.

On Thursday, September 13th, CREW Seattle hosted an event called “Female Mayors in Puget Sound Region,” which featured six women mayors from across the region. They discussed their paths to leadership and where different opportunities and priorities—around commercial real estate development and investment, transportation initiatives, housing growth and effective growth management—are emerging in their respective cities.

The panelists—which included Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen, Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Mercer Island Mayor Debbie Bertlin—also explored how their respective cities are evolving as issues around regional growth and connectivity are becoming increasingly determined by successful place-making.

There are several unique development and investment initiatives that continue to shape the different cities—ranging geographically from further north in Arlington in Snohomish County to Kent in King County—each of which represents different opportunities and challenges for city leadership. Everett, which is Snohomish County’s largest city, is a city on the move, according to Franklin. “Everett is really hot right now for development; with the Metro Everett Plan, it’s all about mixed-use development,” she said.

The Metro Everett Plan—which the City Council recently amended as of August 29th—is an initiative originally launched in 2015 to improve the city’s land use codes and prioritizes where future transportation systems could be located and how the city will manage job and population growth over time. The city’s plan emphasizes how “each new construction project should contribute to the vibrant character of Metro Everett’s environment with innovative, high-quality design and materials” and also aims to add at least 1,000 units of market-rate housing to benefit the Everett metro.

Another in-the-works project set to impact the trajectory of Everett’s local marketplace is Paine Field Airport located at 3220 100th St. SW, which will begin hosting commercial flights in late 2018. The airport, which will look to capitalize on the long-standing presence of Boeing in Everett’s industrial market, will be served by major airlines Alaska, United and Southwest and will accommodate up to 2,350 daily passengers.

Elsewhere, Issaquah has been planning for its future growth ever since 2012 when it created the Central Issaquah Area Plan, which outlined how the city’s population and workforce might evolve over the next twenty years into a more vibrant urban community with easier access to shopping and jobs downtown. As of January 2012, central Issaquah—regarded as the city’s economic hub—included 840 developable acres and 1,100 acres in total, home to roughly 13,000 employers and comprising approximately 89 percent of the city’s commercially-zoned land.

And over the last few years, in part due to the plan devised in 2012, Issaquah has evolved into more of a city in its own right due to extensive population growth, according to mayor Pauly. “Although Issaquah is more known for being a suburb of Seattle, it’s really grown into being its own city. The current population is around 36,000, and we’ve already been building as many residential units as we thought we’d have built by 2030,” she said.

Looking ahead, greater importance is given to proactive initiatives that would allow more positive growth in the future. “Our community needs jobs, and this zoning can help us get there. I’m going to try to get policies and plans in place to get businesses to see Issaquah as the fantastic center that it is,” Pauly added.

Just as cities like Issaquah are aiming to bolster their economic job growth, the city of Kent is looking to reinvent its longstanding image as a predominantly industrially-focused city through increased workforce development strategies. “We are doing so much work around workforce development. Sixty years ago, Kent Valley was all farmland, and the City Council at the time made a deliberate decision to industrialize the valley when Boeing came in,” said Mayor Ralph. “But the struggle we had was that [the city] turned into a lot of warehouses, which provide essentially zero benefit to the city in terms of cost.”

In May of 2000, Boeing announced its plans for the 200-acre Pacific Gateway Business Park in Kent, which called for more than 2 million square feet of industrial, warehouse and distribution facilities. Over the last few years, the city has been taking steps to evaluate where regional occupational opportunities might come from in the future, according to Mayor Ralph—one potential source is aerospace company Blue Origin, which was founded by Jeff Bezos in 2000 and currently headquartered in Kent. “We’ve taken a couple of steps back and are re-envisioning what our city looks like…there’s a whole group of rocket scientists that are hanging out in the Kent Valley,” she said. “And we know that along with that growth, there’s a whole host of advanced manufacturing jobs and ancillary businesses to support that.”

And as the region continues to expand through the creation of new occupational and economic opportunities, different cities are looking to maintain their individual characters while also accounting for in-the-works development prospects on the horizon. Mercer Island, which sits in between Bellevue and Seattle, is currently trying to strike that balance at a pivotal moment in time, according to Mayor Bertlin. “What’s essentially happened is that while the Island has retained its primary focus on being a residential and educational community, we also have a Town Center that is increasingly vibrant,” she said. “We’re fortunate to be in the center between Seattle and Bellevue and have a light rail station coming. We’re in a moment of extreme opportunity.”

On August 30th, the city of Mercer Island issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to the surrounding investment and development community and is hoping to partner with a private developer to design and build a mixed-use project—located at the intersection of Sunset Highway Southeast and 80th Avenue Southeast—that will consist of a condominium project and a commuter parking facility across from the future East Link light rail station scheduled to open in 2023. The Town Center mixed-use project—which will look to enhance the city’s existing 77-acre Town Center area and respond to city residents’ desire to see a greater variety of commercial and retail options in the city’s downtown business core—could ultimately comprise a 5-story structure including 100 or more city-owned commuter parking spaces; ground-floor commercial space and pedestrian-oriented open space.

Submissions for the RFQ are due by October 5th. In the longer-term, the underway East Link light rail station is a 14-mile, 10-station undertaking that will further connect the Eastside to the wider Puget Sound region. The $3.7 billion project will allow riders to get from Mercer Island to the University of Washington in 20 minutes; from South Bellevue to Sea-Tac Airport in under one hour; and from the Overlake Transit Center to Bellevue Transit Center in roughly 10 minutes, according to Sound Transit’s web site.

As the wider region continues to become more interconnected through expanding transportation networks like Sound Transit’s multi-year expansion of the light rail, greater importance is given to ensuring effective growth management over time. “We’re focusing on growth management and creating compact communities that are interesting and provide a variety of services,” said Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen. “We’re trying to [both] preserve what we love about Kirkland, like the single-family neighborhoods along the waterfront and also develop the urban center,” she said.

One development set to change the fabric of Kirkland—set on an 11.5-acre site at the corner of Central Ave. at 134 Parkplace Center in downtown Kirkland—is the Kirkland Urban development. A joint venture between Talon Private Capital, PGIM Real Estate and Ryan Companies Inc., Kirkland Urban is a 1.6 million square foot multi-phase, mixed-use development on which construction was begun in mid-2016 and will ultimately comprise of 50,000 square feet of plaza space and a 185-unit residential component, among other uses.

The first phase of the project includes two office towers that will provide a combined total of 396,000 square feet of Class A office space, which is almost 50 percent pre-leased: cable and internet provider Wave will occupy 88,000 square feet in Urban Central, a six-story tower consisting of around 197,000 square feet, and Tableau Software signed a lease for 92,000 square feet in Urban North, a seven-story nearly 196,000-square-foot tower. Construction on the first phase of Kirkland Urban is scheduled to be complete near the end of 2018 and businesses are expected to start opening in early 2019.

In the wider regional context—and as new mixed-use developments coming online continue to shape the fabric of growing cities—representatives from city leadership are looking to ensure that their cities can prosper effectively over time as well as in the short-term. The city of Arlington in Snohomish County, in particular, is on the rise after struggling after the recession in the last cycle, according to Mayor Barbara Tolbert. “At the end of the recession…small communities in North Snohomish County had suffered greatly. We didn’t just have to rebuild from that devastation but had to chart a course for the community that would make it more resilient into the future. Resiliency is a key factor, and we want to have certainty in our processes,” she said.

Job growth in Snohomish County has been steadily increasing over the last few years, according to data from the “Snohomish County Tomorrow 2015 Growth Monitoring Report.” In 2012, employment numbers exceeded the 2008 peak of 263,000 jobs and by 2014 had grown to 273,300 jobs, according to the report, which highlights how growth from 2010 to 2014 was led by the private sector, “notably manufacturing.” Manufacturing employment across the county increased by 10,500 jobs, marking a 19.9 percent increase over 2010.

The manufacturing sector remains a prominent source of economic growth in Snohomish County. The sector is a “core anchor of the county’s economy” and represents approximately 20 percent of all jobs, according to early 2018 data provided by Snohomish County Economic Alliance. In Arlington in particular, the city retains a particular focus on manufacturing, according to Mayor Tolbert. “We’re on the cusp of being recognized as a regional manufacturing industrial center in the Puget Sound region. We’re really focused on remaining a jobs center in North Snohomish County,” she said. According to information provided by Data USA, employment in Arlington grew at a rate of 3.51 percent from 8,478 to 8,776 employees from 2015 to 2016. As of 2016, manufacturing was the most common employment sector—accounting for 16.1 percent in Arlington.

The city of Arlington is also working with the city of Marysville and the Port of Everett on the Arlington-Marysville Manufacturing Industrial Center (AMMIC), an industrial park that spans the border between Arlington and Marysville and that would be the second largest manufacturing/industrial facility in Snohomish County: nearly 1,762 (or approximately 44 percent) of the larger 4,019-acre AMMIC land area consists of land with the capacity for additional development, including partially-used sites, developable sites and vacant sites.

Development of the AMMIC is estimated to generate 25,000 new jobs by 2040, according to data on the Port of Everett’s web site. The cities of Arlington and Marysville have received grant awards totaling $100,000 from the Washington State Department of Commerce Community Economic Revitalization Board to put toward the master planning effort for the project.

As the region continues to expand, a greater focus is placed on the importance of new mixed-use developments—both as a means to generate increased economic and occupational activity and as a means to improve city residents’ overall quality of life. “I hope people will recognize Arlington as the absolute definition of live-work-play, and that we’re [also] providing an ecosystem for our job base,” Tolbert said.

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph echoed these sentiments, emphasizing how future development opportunities will continue to contribute to the fabric of the evolving city. “We’re working to transform Kent from the place that has been as an agricultural and warehouse community into a livable, sustainable urban place. We have an amazing opportunity in front of us to recreate who we are as a city,” she said.

Issues around gender equality, also, continue to play an increasingly important role in these changing cities as part of the larger evolving regional fabric. “In our 125-year history, we’re learning to adapt and change to challenge the status quo,” said Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, who took office in January 2018 and became the first woman to be elected mayor of Everett in the city’s history. As part of a directive to examine the city’s Community Engagement and Inclusion policies, the city found that out of 1,200 people, nearly three-fourths of the workforce was male and roughly 92 percent of the workforce was white. “We are not diverse in the city staff…we need to create pathways in our city for everybody to be able to access the city government and be engaged and involved,” Franklin added.

Looking ahead, there are still more obstacles to be overcome when it comes to ensuring a more diverse and equitable community across the Puget Sound region. “I think the government, city officials and staff should represent the diversity of the population that we serve. Right now there’s a lot of work to do in this area,” said Kirkland Mayor Walen.

During the immense period of growth and change occurring throughout the Puget Sound region, the onus is on those in leadership positions to lead the way when it comes to promoting gender diversity, according to Tolbert. “Those of us who are fortunate enough to be women in leadership positions really have a responsibility to ensure that we’re paving those pathways and opening those corridors for other women,” she said. “It shouldn’t be so difficult for women to reach those leadership positions. We look at our communities as a whole and want all our citizens to have an opportunity for upward mobility,” she added.