Opinion

Setting the record straight on Lacey development

There is a great deal of confusi on over the complicated funding package being put together for Lacey's Gateway Project in Hawks Prairie. The Olympian has added to this confusion with unclear stories and an editorial earlier this week that was just plain wrong.

First, a brief description of the project, and then my attempt to unravel the state funding programs and set the record straight.

The Gateway Project in Hawks Prairie is the shared vision of the Lacey City Council and Tri Vo, a local developer. They plan to convert 400 acres north of Interstate 5 and west of Marvin Road into a thriving urban town center. More than 4 million square feet of commercial, office professional, medical services, retail and high-density residential development space is planned, creating 8,000 to 10,000 new jobs.

Cabela's, a 185,000-square-foot sporting goods showroom on 28 acres, is a small but pivotal part of the Gateway Project plan. Cabela's expects to create more than 350 jobs and draw at least 1 million out-of-state tourists into Thurston County each year. Cabela's will spend $40 million to construct its store and is expected to funnel

$5.4 million in tax revenue into the state, county and city coffers annually.

But Cabela's is only about 7 percent of the whole Gateway Project. The city of Lacey plans to construct a new civic building - possibly a library branch, performance hall or activity center - worth at least $6 million as part of the planned Hawks Prairie development.

It's an incredible vision that will change the face of Lacey if completed.

Grant application

Now to the financing issue.

The city of Lacey has applied for a $9.9 million grant from the state's Job Development Fund. That fund, in part, is supported through the real estate excise tax.

The Legislature appropriated about $50 million to the job development grant program two years ago, designating that the money be distributed statewide through a competitive process. The city of Lacey filed a $9.9 million application through the state Department of Community Trade and Economic Development. Lacey would use the money to construct the backbone road and utility infrastruture to serve the Gateway Project and northeast Lacey. The Community Economic Revitalization Board conducted a competitive process and as usual had applications for more money than was available for distribution. Lacey's application, however, was successful, and it's now up to the Legislature to ratify the list of approved projects.

That should not be a problem.

As House Speaker Frank Chopp said, "It's an open competitive process and we don't mess with those, well, because it's an open, competitive process."

Another source of money

There is another source of funds, administered through the state Department of Community Trade and Economic Development, that Lacey is considering applying for called the Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT) program. That's a pool of $5 million, again created by the Legislature, with half of the money going out to communities through a competitive bid process. That LIFT money is used to pay off bonds and, according to Speaker Chopp, leverages many millions more in projects. The governor has actually recommended expanding the competitive portion of the LIFT program by $2.5 million.

Lacey is considering applying for LIFT money to pay for phase two expansion of the state Route 510/Interstate 5 interchange. The deadline for the LIFT application is June 29.

Earlier this week, Speaker Chopp talked to an Olympian reporter about the Job Development Fund and how the money might be distributed by the state in future funding cycles. He did not threaten the Gateway Project as a headline in Thursday's Olympian implied.

That mistake was compounded by a Friday editorial that confused the two state funding sources - the Job Development Fund and LIFT funding.

No threats

In a gracious and understanding call to The Olympian on Friday morning, Speaker Chopp asked that it be made clear that he's not threatening Lacey's $9.9 million grant and that all of the projects funded to date through the competitive CTED process likely will be approved by lawmakers. Chopp also noted that, contrary to the editorial, the LIFT program is in line for an increase in funding, not a cutback or elimination.

Olympian Publisher John Winn Miller said he is responsible for the confusion in the editorials.

"I committed the cardinal sin of journalism: I assumed something without double checking," said Miller, a former reporter and editor. "While there is plenty of blame to go around, it is really my fault. I apologize to our readers and specifically to Speaker Chopp."

It was not a good week, but we owe it to our readers and to Speaker Chopp to set the record straight.

Mike Oakland is The Olympian's editorial page editor and can be reached at 360-754-5464.

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