Fife experienced one million square feet of new construction in 1999, says the City’s Community Development Director Steve Worthington, and another million square feet are planned for 2000. Most of this has been warehouse space.

Far more people work in Fife than live there, but new housing developments are also on the drawing boards that could alter the imbalance and create a good many construction jobs in the process.

“We’re being discovered for our residential opportunities,” says Worthington. “We offer some good values.”

CMC Heartland Partners of Chicago plans to construct a 900-unit subdivision, he says, adding that a 30-unit project geared to adults over 50 also is in the planning stages. Both projects are scheduled for development south of I-5.

The chief business is business

The Fife Business Park is home to 125 businesses ranging from light industry to banking to education. Development of the 23-acre park began in 1984. Today, it includes 11 buildings, which total more than 292,000 square feet. The two largest tenants are Ashmead College, which teaches massage and physical therapy, and Sound Analytical Services.

“I have worked in Fife for 13 years and have seen incredible changes,” says Property Manager Karin Stormo. “The level of development has skyrocketed.”

Stormo oversees a facility operating at 94 percent occupancy, a robust rate for an industrial park. Space available at the moment ranges from a one-person office to a 2,400 square-foot warehouse space, Stormo says.

Two years ago, 750 people worked in the park, she says. She estimates the figure is between 800 and 1,000 today.

“We consider our truck access good for a park of this size,” Stormo says of its Pacific Highway East link to Interstate 5.

There are plans afoot to incorporate Fife Business Park, as well as Fife’s Rainier Corporate Park East and Trans-Pacific Industrial Park, into the Port of Tacoma’s Foreign Trade Zone.

Officials at Rainier and Trans-Pacific would not comment for this article.

An application to expand the Trade Zone was filed with the federal government in February. Public comment on the proposal will be accepted through April, and, barring overwhelming dissent, the expansion could be finalized within the next nine months.

Such zones are on U.S. soil, says Jerry Ahmann, manager of the Port’s Foreign Trade Zone #86, but are considered outside the country for purposes of duties and excise taxes. This means companies within the zone can import component parts, for instance, and put the products together at their Fife facilities without having to pay duties or taxes until the finished products are shipped to market.

An appealing tax structure

Availability of land and easy access from I-5 have made Fife a popular location for automotive dealerships.

“We have become the Mecca for quality car sales,” says the City’s Worthington. Destination Recreation Vehicles is one of the newest occupants of Fife’s auto row, where Korum Motors is building an RV lot and Jaguar has plans for a dealership.

The fact that Fife has no business and occupation tax makes it particularly inviting to business, says Worthington. And the Pierce County sales tax is two-tenths of a percent lower than King County’s. Two-tenths of a percent may seem niggling, Worthington concedes, but it can add up to real money when the item you’re purchasing is a car or an RV.

Not far from auto row is Casa Real Restaurant off Pacific Highway, where Freddie’s Club Casino has an option to buy and plans to open a gaming and food service establishment in July.

“That is going to be a pretty big operation,” interim City Manager Mike Caldwell says of Freddie’s.

Selden’s Furniture plans to open a 50,000-square-foot showroom next door to its facility at 1802 62nd Avenue East. Milgard Manufacturing, which makes windows at 965 54th Avenue East, and Lynden Transport, which moves a wide variety of goods between Puget Sound and Alaska from its headquarters at 5410 12th St. East, are also expanding their operations.

To facilitate such growth, Fife plans to begin improvements to its sewer system in May, when it will set about replacing or upgrading pumps

Schools, recreation get a boost

Fife took a giant step Feb. 29 in its plans to develop schools and parks. Voters approved a $35 million bond issue that will pay for an elementary school, a middle school and playfields.

The bond issue was approved by a razor-thin margin: A 60 percent yes vote is required to pass issues involving capital expenditures—60.06 percent of the ballots cast in connection with the bond issue were in favor of the project. In other words, it passed by just two votes.

The playing fields and middle school will be built on land purchased in 1999, when the City bought 18 acres near 54th Avenue and Union Pacific Railroad bought an adjacent 13 acres, then donated it to the City.

“Fife really doesn’t have any parks to speak of,” says the City’s Parks and Recreation Director Michael Lafreniere, just a small one near City Hall and a playground next to the Fife Swimming Center.

This summer construction will begin on the new park, which will feature fields for softball, baseball, soccer and football, a basketball court, a track and a walking trail.

“It’s a big step,” Lafreniere says. “It’s long overdue.”

The middle school will include a 400-seat auditorium, which will be made available for community activities. Other rooms in the school also will be designated for public use during non-school hours.

The new elementary school will be built in a portion of the Milton/Edgewood area that is part of the Fife School District.

By John Larson, Business Examiner staff