Even a casual look around Kent reveals a lot of new investment.
New commercial buildings. Restored historic buildings. Renovated commercial buildings. New apartment complexes. New commercial research buildings. The list goes on — and there’s more to come.
From a strategic perspective, the City Council joined the staff in taking a leap of faith 5 years ago choosing to make investments in the downtown at a time when popular opinion favored sitting tight and holding on rather than trying to be a spark.
At that time the City had just wrapped up an 18 month Blue Ribbon Panel budget analysis that included a warning that while doing nothing sounds appealing to the wallet, the cost of doing nothing may be great — so the Panel members helped ring the bell early on for smart, strategic investments.
In hindsight, the Panel and City Council made a great call. The staff helped make the business case for the downtown project and structure deals that stretched resources and managed the investment risk as much as possible — but at the end of the day it was still a risk.
There’s no guarantees in economic development but local leaders felt it was a risk worth taking to keep Kent moving forward rather than falling behind, and the staff pointed to examples in other cities where city investment led to more investment, turning a declining community into a rising city. Council pulled the trigger and set us off on this crazy downtown adventure race.
Our mantra that investment begets more investment sounded great on paper but it still led to many sleepless nights as deals hung in the balance more often than I care to recall. Seeing the concrete and steel rise out of the ground brought some early relief but there’s nothing like ribbon cuttings and waiting lines in new restaurants to finally bring a sense of ease with the tough decisions that had to be made.
Better than that, I had a chance to see the numbers tabulated from our Community Development Department for the value of commercial construction completed last year. It was a whopper — $53 million.
For comparison, from the years 1999 thru 2010 commercial construction investment in Kent averaged $6.5 million a year. Then from 2011 thru 2012 commercial investment skyrocketed to an average of $55 million a year. That’s an increase of 745%, at a time otherwise known as the Great Recession. Wow.
Here’s a look at the figures:
Unfortunately construction value doesn’t equate to a dollar for dollar increase in the property tax base, and the City only gets about a nickel on the dollar for property taxes, so all this new investment won’t solve our City budget challenges but we’re banking on the fact that this is commercial construction, and with commercial construction come new jobs, and new jobs will definitely help the City’s tax income base grow over time and keep the City budget afloat.