Fife is a city where constant change has been the rule for many years. The construction of Interstate-5, starting in 1960, began the evolution of a sleepy agricultural town, into the transportation hub it has become today.
Many long-time residents complain that Fife is in danger of losing its sense of history, as more agricultural land is turned into warehouses, distribution centers and car lots. However, in one sense, Fife is returning to roots which stretch back even farther than its agricultural heritage.
In 1856, members of the Puyallup Indian Tribe were the first permanent residents of Fife. They revised the Medicine Creek Indian Treaty and occupied a reservation that stretched roughly from Puyallup to Browns Point, and centered at Fife.
Fife quickly became Potlatch Headquarters for the Puyallup, Nisqually and Squaxin Indian Tribes. This meant it was also the trading post for supplies and site of some of the biggest Pow Wows north of the Puyallup River.
From that beginning, Fife developed into a fertile farm area, and more recently, into a bustling commercial, hotel and industrial city. Intersected by I-5, close to SeaTac Airport and at the doorstep to the Port of Tacoma, Fife is a natural location for manufacturing, retail and distribution businesses.
“We’re really excited about the potential for economic growth here in Fife,” says Fife Area Chamber of Commerce President Michael Butcher, a vice president of Columbia Bank.
“As long as the infrastructure’s in place so we can keep up with projected growth,” Butcher adds, “we’re entirely in favor of continued development.”
The impetus for Fife’s explosive growth and the drain on the city’s infrastructure come from one and the same place—the neighboring Port of Tacoma.
Fife’s location between the sixth largest container port in the world, on the one hand, and railroad lines and I-5 , on the other, make it the ideal staging site for a variety of goods that pass through the Port, everything from frozen meat and apples, to lumber and VCRs.
During the next five years, the Port will invest an estimated $229 million in major new terminal projects and industrial development with the goal of attracting new cargoes, new businesses, and new jobs to Pierce County.
All this development has put a strain on Fife’s resources even as the Port of Tacoma, Port of Seattle, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, Union Pacific Railroad, Washington State, federal and local governments have combined to initiate and hasten funding for a series of construction projects called “FAST Corridor” to relieve congestion along the interstate.
The infrastructure expansion has not been without controversy. Resistance from Fife’s farming community sank city government’s attempts to form a new Local Improvement District (LID) to upgrade the community’s sewer system. These same residents supported a February measure that will change Fife’s government from a mayor-city council format to a council-city manager format come November.
Long-time residents, many of them tillers of the soil, are concerned that the increasing urbanization of Fife will destroy their livelihoods.
“Some of these farms have been in families for 100 years,” says Fife historian Lucy Cerqui, whose husband’s family began farming there more than a century ago. “We want to make sure the government allows us to farm our land.”
A major reason such residents united to oppose the LID, Cerqui explains, is fear that construction will harm local drainage patterns and make the land useless for farming.
“It happened in Kent,” she contends. “It happened in Auburn. We want to make certain it doesn’t happen to us.”
The threat seems very real. Not only are local businesses developing in Fife, but continued Port business has brought Fife a higher profile world-wide.
The Fife Area Chamber boasts that Fife houses more than 13 hotels and 22 restaurants—ranging from earthy, inexpensive truck stops, to high-end executive quarters. Fife has become a popular place for business travel, meetings and even conventions.
It’s location also leaves visitors just a short drive to Seattle, Tacoma or Olympia. It’s also within easy striking distance of attractions such as the Tacoma Dome, Mt. Rainier, Northwest Trek, the Super Mall and the Western Washington Fairgrounds.
Despite these attractions, Fife is a community largely filled with business people who live elsewhere—primarily in neighboring cities. The four and a half square-mile city boasts a population of little more than 5,000.
However, the Fife City Council is working to make Fife a more attractive place through such initiatives as construction of new parks and upgrading local libraries, among other initiatives.