Candice Bock foresees a bright economic future for Lakewood. As evidence, the City’s economic development director points to the pending sale of Lakewood Mall and construction of a new store by Lowe’s, which recently bought the Eagle Hardware chain.

“A lot of thought went into this sale,” Bock says of negotiations between mall owner Wells Fargo Bank and MBK Northwest of Lake Oswego, Ore., which owns malls in Washington and Oregon.

Bock credits MBK with turning around the struggling Jantzen Beach Mall in Portland. She says they renovated that mall and brought in new retailers. Lakewood Mall has struggled with high vacancies and lack of shoppers in recent years. Bock hopes MBK will have similar success in Lakewood.

“We’re very hopeful they will close on the property by early fall,” she adds.

Lowe’s, meanwhile, is building a 130,000-square-foot store at a site formerly occupied by Fred Meyer on Southwest 100th Street. The home-improvement emporium is scheduled to open in January 2001.

City is losing business

Bock points out that a recent survey of Lakewood residents indicated they spend 40 percent of their retail dollars outside of town, mostly in Tacoma or on the nearby military installations—the Army’s Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base. Those taking part in the survey said there’s no disloyalty intended, some items just aren’t available in Lakewood.

Home improvement products are a good example, Bock says, adding that not having a store in the City produces a serious drain on revenue. The average Lakewood homeowner spends about $860 a year on such items, says Bock.

“We expect that with a store like Lowe’s we will capture some of those dollars,” she says.

A major tourist attraction could add to the City coffers by bringing in money that has little opportunity to find its way to Lakewood at the moment, Bock says. Great Northwest Development Company of Louisville, Ky., is conducting a feasibility study for an amusement park Bock believes could do precisely that in the Woodbrook neighborhood.

Before Great Northwest even made its interest known, the city was considering zoning 300 acres in that area, which lies between Ft. Lewis and McChord, for industrial use.

Industrial Park expansion

The Lakewood Industrial Park will soon have a new 57,000-square-foot building dedicated to warehouse and office space.

“It is designed for the small business-park user,” says Wayne Reisenauer, managing director of Northwest Building LLC, which operates the park. He says units in the structure will have about 5,000 square feet of space, which he calls ideal for the small tenants, a market segment he says often is overlooked by large industrial parks.

Spaces will be flexible enough for customers to have showrooms and offices, in addition to warehouse space.

Site planning began in January, with construction underway in May. Reisenauer says the building will be ready for occupancy by Oct. 1.

Light rail service

Sound Transit’s plans to make Lakewood the southern terminus of its commuter rail system have produced several possible sites for a station.

Sound Transit, Lakewood city officials and residents have been involved in the review process that led to selection of a preferred site, where a station would displace several small businesses and residents of a mobile home park. The parcel straddles Pacific Highway Southwest, on the southeast side of Lakeview Drive. The bulk of the parcel is bordered by 47th Avenue Southwest, the McChord Railroad, and Interstate 5 on the east and Pacific Highway on the west.

Within this area are a pawn shop, a wrecking yard and several other small businesses, as well as the 42-unit Lakewood Court Mobile Home Park. If the station is developed there, Lakewood Court would give way to commuter parking. The station itself would be on the other side of Pacific Highway Southwest.

Federal law requires agencies such as Sound Transit to offer property owners fair prices for their land, says commuter rail project manager John Hubbard.

Hubbard would like to break ground on the station by late spring 2001 and wants train service to reach Lakewood by late 2001. If the station is not complete by then, he says, he would at least want a platform in place.

New City Hall

Since Lakewood incorporated in 1996, city offices and Lakewood Municipal Court have been housed in rented space on Gravelly Lake Drive. The City has an ambitious plan to build a city hall that officials say not only will better serve residents but could contribute to the economic well-being of Lakewood Mall.

Lakewood Mall has offered the City virtually free land on which to build. Mall and city officials envision a city centered around the mall.

Contractors submit bids this fall.

The mall has struggled in recent years to compete with similar facilities in other parts of the region. Owners hope a city hall there will attract customer traffic as well as additional development in the neighorhood.

Design a building that will be economical now and in the future but one Lakewood citizens can take pride in, Merritt+Pardini was told when it was assigned the task. What the Tacoma architects came up with is a 71,000-square-foot, four-story structure.

Lakewood officials estimate $1.1 million will be spent on the design itself, and another $9.7 million will be spent on construction. Furnishings, landscaping, parking lots and demolition of vacant buildings will bring the project to around the $13 million mark. The city also plans to build a road through the area at a cost of $900,000.

Contractors will bid on the city hall project this fall.

By John Larson, Business Examiner staff