Students Weigh Risk and Reward of City Housing Deal

Students Weigh Risk and Reward of City Housing Deal

Mayor Frank Kuntz gives the students a birds-eye view look at downtown from the top of the Federal building.

Two big problems faced by the city of Wenatchee are the need to provide more housing during a housing crisis, and to provide parking for city employees at City Hall. Career & Technical Education students from Wenatchee High School took a closer look at these issues during an annual project-based learning experience with the city and in the end, were challenged by the Mayor to make or break a deal.
 
For the last four years, the city has sought student involvement in addressing such municipal conundrums as balancing the budget, extending sewer service to Olds Station and most recenelty the purchase of the a portion of the Federal building. This time the students were faced with another real-life decision the city is weighing.
 
Weidner Apartment Homes, a global company based in Kirkland has an ambitious project proposal—150- to 175-unit multi-story complex in downtown Wenatchee. The 5- to 7-story building would be built in a vacant parking lot at the northeast corner of Kittitas and South Mission streets. The structure would include 2 levels of below-ground parking for tenants.
 
The company opened the 312-unit Riverside 9 Apartments in 2014 to wide praise and is currently building a 140-unit addition to that complex down the street on Riverside Drive. To make the new development happen, Weider wants the city to invest in the project because building downtown is more expensive than “garden style” apartments.  When it is more expensive to build, they need to charge more for rent. “They’re concerned they won’t get the rents they need and want us to help offset those costs to get the project going” explained Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz as he outlined the proposal for the group of twenty-five students.
 
The city recently relocated operations to the Federal building, kitty-corner from the old City Hall. This new space provides an ideal location full or design potential for a city hall of the future. One disadvantage is there is not enough parking in this new space for city employees and adding parking requires spending funds to create it.  It can be built on-site or as a part of a partnership with Weidner that will yield additional housing.
 
The bottom line, the city needs more housing and parking, and Weidner is willing, with help. So should they make a deal?
 
Students were taken through a financial analysis looking at options for financing the project. Director of Economic Development, Steve King added that by building these units in the southern end of downtown, that property values are expected to increase, business will move in and “everyone’s boat will be raised.” This is just the tip of the economic development iceberg for the city. “We’ve studied this a lot, and think our community is ready. If this works, then there will be others [developers],” said King.
 
During the course of the day, city staff helped provide a deeper understanding of the construction and parking issues at hand by arranging for the students to view architectural renderings of the new City Hall space, tour the proposed building site and get hands-on with electric cars representing the future or parking and transportation thanks to Plug-In North Central Washington.
 
After careful economic evaluation of the public-private partnership, the students discussed that the project not only made financial sense but added that the city really needs to work on building a vibrant downtown and community to create lifestyle opportunities that will draw in young adults and associated high-quality jobs to Wenatchee. 
 
In the end, it was a unanimous decision by the students to allow the mayor to make the proposed deal with Weidner a reality. “I’m looking at things differently, said Wenatchee High School senior Alex Albert. Albert's family recently relocated here from the Seattle area. “It was a pretty big shock for me to move here from a metropolitan area. We need to take risks and make investments, especially in this new world of startups and innovation, our community should reflect that kind of thinking, said Albert.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing about the proposed deal with Weidner in approximately six weeks.