Downtown plan viewed virtually

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By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

A downtown center where, “the lights are much brighter” was the highlight of the Feb. 6 Bonney Lake City Council workshop.

Bob Bengford of the Seattle architecture firm Makers Architecture presented a computer generated virtual tour of the design of a downtown area for Bonney Lake. Also included in the presentation was an economic and market analysis by Grossman Services and Michael Luis and Associates of Tacoma.

The presentation provided the most complete vision of a city center since the staff and council first approached the idea in 1999.

The heart of the plan proposes to convert a triangular area, with 184th Avenue East on the west border and state Route 410 on the east, into a walkable “city center” with shops, restaurants, a City Hall and central plaza.

Mayor Neil Johnson said “the presentation went very well. We got good insights from the property and business owners.”

The tricky part of the equation comes in drawing developers and businesses to the downtown area.

Ken Freed, owner of Windermere Real Estate in Bonney Lake and a member of a downtown advisory group, described the plan as a tall task.

“If property owners buy into this vision, (then) our challenge is for property owners to see more profit if they follow the vision,” Freed said. “It all boils down to how much profit are they going to make?”

Roland Jackson, a downtown property owner and developer, said what he has heard from the City Council “is extremely encouraging. But now is the time to acquire real estate. The farther you get down the line, the more economic demand there is on the situation. It's going to take a City Council to say we want this more than some other things.”

The economic analysis report noted “strong demographics and growth potential,” but without the city and property action, “future retail growth could be expected to take the form of traditional strip retail.... Strong city and community leadership and effort will be needed to shift development patterns from ones that are currently profitable but not consistent with Bonney Lake's aspirations for a strong Downtown.”

The trick in the plan's formula involves incentives offered to developers. The mayor said developers in cities of the size of Bonney Lake, nearly 15,000, do not get the tax breaks of cities with a population of 30,000 or more.

Johnson said he plans to lobby 31st District legislators to “get a tax break for cities of our size,” and part of the City Council retreat will be “discussing ways to deal with impact fees as part of a downtown incentive.”

The mayor said he thought the council might consider lowering impact fees and sales tax reductions for the downtown core to spur action.

“I think we can make this (downtown plan) happen,” Johnson said. “We just have to have a method to our madness.”

The plan calls for the area to be completed in 2026, but Johnson said he would like to move that up at least six years.

Dennis Box can be reached at

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