By Ralph Nichols

Federal and state funding from earmarks and other targeted appropriations is critical for continued economic growth in Southwest King County, officials from three Highline cities said Friday (July 10th).

Burien Councilwoman Sally Nelson, representing Mayor Joan McGilton, along with SeaTac Mayor Ralph Shape and Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton delivered annual reports on the economic state of their cities at the Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce monthly membership luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel in SeaTac.

“Earmarks have gotten a bad rap but the needs of local government depend on federal and state funding,” said Nelson. Yet, she recalled, Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, said at last month’s dedication of the King County Regional Library/Burien City Hall that the new building “is an example of earmarks at work.”

“We can’t do this alone,” agreed Shape. Local governments depend on funding by the federal government, he added. Haggerton noted that state law limits cities and counties to property tax revenue increases of 1 percent per year except on new development, and that much of this money goes for fire and police services and health care.

Focusing on current economic development in Burien, Nelson said the city’s Town Square “never would have happened without a changed (SW) 152nd Street,” the redesign and rebuilding of Burien’s main street that preceded construction of new condominiums and street-level retail space in addition to the library/city hall through a public-private partnership.

For sustained economic recovery and development to happen, strong partnerships are needed, Nelson continued. Local economic development depends on “strong transportation systems, strong water and wastewater systems – managed and paid for by local government, but this will not happen without strong support by state and federal government.”

Planning and opportunity are meeting in SeaTac, which Shape described as “a transportation-centric city.”  New development is taking place on the west side of Tukwila International Boulevard across from the light rail station, and will include both commercial space and multi-family housing. Planned at South 176th Street across International Boulevard from the light rail airport station is “a vibrant mix of restaurants, shops, entertainment and residential” developments, which will be easily accessible to light rail and air passengers as well as city residents.

Shape said updated zoning laws that encourage higher population densities in these areas along with easier permitting are encouraging these developments as well as other businesses to relocate to SeaTac. In addition, good fiscal management is helping SeaTac weather the current economic storm, he added. These projects have been in the planning stage for years, and “now is the time to implement them.”

Haggerton observed that while Tukwila is a small city with a population of only 18,000, it provides 42,000 jobs. And Westfield Southcenter Mall, which generates many of these jobs, is planning to develop the north side of the mall with improved pedestrian access – in the wake of the recent expansion on the mall’s south side.

After five years, the Tukwila South project – a new non-central business district development on the current Segale property south of South 180th Street – is moving forward, he said. And a developer has been selected for the Tukwila Village project along Tukwila International Boulevard, which is expected to revitalize that area with new retail and housing.

Reminding chamber members that light rail service between Tukwila International Boulevard at Southcenter Boulevard and downtown Seattle begins this coming Saturday, July 18th, King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson (SeaTac) said this will usher in “extraordinary opportunities for economic development in South King County.”

In addition, it “will provide the opportunity for us to get out of our cars and go into Seattle (by light rail) to work, to go to a play, to go to a Mariners” game. This is an exciting, exciting event – and the biggest investment in infrastructure, except for what the Port has done at the airport, in South King County.

Patterson, who also serves on the Sound Transit board, added that the grand opening for light rail service from Tukwila on to Sea-Tac International Airport will take place in December.

Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.