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Money for community center tops Auburn's legislative wish list

This architectural illustration shows the proposed $12 million, 22,000-square-foot community center planned for Les Gove Park. - Courtesy rendering/BLRB Architects
This architectural illustration shows the proposed $12 million, 22,000-square-foot community center planned for Les Gove Park.
— image credit: Courtesy rendering/BLRB Architects

The state Legislature is about to start its 2013 session.

And you can bet that the City of Auburn is ready with its wish list.

Auburn's biggest ask — $3.5 million for the proposed $12 million, 20,000-square-foot Auburn Community Center.

The center, which would offer programming focusing on human services, community health, trade shows, community recreation and cultural enrichment on the former Auburn YMCA site just south of Les Gove Park, is already designed and the contract is ready to go out to bid.

With the last $3.5 million in hand, City officials say, the long-delayed center could get started immediately.

Mayor Pete Lewis is already steeled against any arguments pointing to the doldrum economy. There has been a crisis of some kind or another at the state level every year during his three terms, Lewis said, and all during that time Auburn has watched its sister cities pick up money for their capital projects.

Now, said the mayor, it's Auburn's turn.

"We have watched communities like Federal Way get an aquatic center and a community center, we have watched Renton get a full-blown community center and other projects. "Same with Kent," Lewis said. "We are now a city of 72,000 coming up on 75,000, and it really is time for the state Legislature to help the 14th or 13th largest city in the state of Washington."

Another key issue is transportation.

From Auburn's perspective, any state transportation package worth its salt must:

• Secure full or significant funding for the completion of State Route 167.

• Ensure that the state distributes a part of any increase in the gas tax directly to cities and counties for their local street maintenance and preservation.

• Preserve and enhance funding for grant programs that are vital for Auburn and other local governments.

• Provide cities and counties with local transportation financing options that they can consider within their own communities, according to their needs.

"What we're really looking for is to fix the last mile, usually an arterial, between where the factory is and the freeway entrance is. And we are starting to lose those roads," Lewis said. "So beside the big mega-projects, the highways and freeways of the state, we're also looking for preservation money, the last mile between that factory where things are produced to the highway or freeway.

"That's what's really killing us, especially the valley cities. But Seattle and Tacoma are now having a real problem. The county is having roads really going down to where it has said that on certain classifications if it gets worse, they are going to be gravel roads again. This is not just in King County, it's all over the state, but that last mile connection if we lose it is going to make our ports backwater ports."

The third major item on Auburn's wish list — an Amtrak stop at the Auburn Sounder Station.

"We've been a train town for 100 years plus, and there are new Amtrak trains coming on in the next couple of years," Lewis said. "What Auburn is suggesting is leaving existing routes the way they are, but just like on the East Coast having some off-setting routes so more people could use the trains and having Auburn as one of the stops."

Money from the state Legislature in 2012 funded a marketing and feasibility study, but what the City has found is that the Washington State Department of Transportation decides for Amtrak where the stops here are going to be.

"So we're telling the state Legislature 'we need you to pay attention to this and re-establish a train depot stop in Auburn for the national train system,'" Lewis said.

What's in it for Auburn?

"It means, yes, you could get on the train and go to Seattle and Tacoma, but you could also go to Victoria B.C. and to either Vancouver. You could go to California. When they open the Stampede Pass line you could go to Chicago. That's what it means. And you could do it right here," Lewis said. "The cities of Covington, Maple Valley, Black Diamond, Enumclaw and Pacific have already signed on with us for a stop, because we are their way through, and they all want to be able to have that kind of stop here."

Other issues: The state's appropriation of 3.4 percent of the liquor tax on the heels of the initiative that got the state out of the retail liquor business in June 2012. Auburn had used that money for public safety, primarily police purposes.

The City's hope: that the state won't take any more.

"The initial part of the money was taken for last year's budget, and they are revisiting that and the second portion of that is supposed to be enacted in October of 2013, when they'll take an additional $10 million," said Carolyn Robertson, government relations manager for the City of Auburn. "When the state managed liquor licenses, there were about 400 facilities where you could retail buy liquor in Washington, in the state-run and contract stores. It's estimated that over the next two years the number will be about 1,400. So we're looking at three times the amount of facilities where people will have access to alcohol, but we will have the same number of cops to monitor and deal with the issues created by alcohol in the community."

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