Mayor's state of the city: 'Very good,' despite difficulties
By BRIAN BECKLEY
Renton Reporter Assistant Editor
March 6, 2013 · Updated 3:26 PM
Mayor Denis Law spoke of both the difficulties in overcoming the recent economic difficulties as well as what he sees as a bright future for the City of Renton during his sixth State of the City Address Wednesday.
"What is the state of our city?" Law said. "I think the state of Renton is very good."
Speaking before nearly 200 business and civic leaders at the event, organized by the Renton Chamber of Commerce and hosted by the Holiday Inn off South Grady Way, the mayor highlighted the city's partnerships with local groups and organizations throughout his 20-minute speech and focused on how the city has worked with its employees to find more efficient ways of doing city business.
"The past several years have had a similar theme – finding new ways to provide city services with less revenue and fewer people," Law said near the beginning of his speech.
Law joked that most of his State of the City speeches have been similar in theme, noting that only his first speech in 2008, just weeks before the Puget Sound region started a slide into the recession that was picking up speed around the country, was the exception.
"Times were very good, or so we thought," he said.
Since then, the city's population has grown 67 percent, from 56,000 to about 94,000, mostly through annexations. In that time there has been a 15 percent reduction in the city's workforce.
Law said it was the city's employees that have led the way in finding efficiencies, while continuing to provide the services the citizens need.
"At City Hall, our employees stepped up to the challenges and today, I want to brag a little about what we have accomplished as a city despite significantly reduced resources," he said.
The mayor went on to highlight what the city has been able to accomplish, even while dealing with the "worst recession to hit this nation," including $85 million in grants that have gone to infrastructure improvements, as well as parks and trails. The city opened Heritage Park in the Highlands and completed three new trails.
Law also said Renton, working with six other south-sound municipalities, built and opened a state-of-the-art jail facility.
"Seattle built a ferris wheel, we built a jail," he said to laughs.
Law also cited the "first comprehensive recycling program in King County," which he said has diverted nearly 25,000 tons of recyclable materials away from the landfill.
"Investing in infrastructure is investing in the future of our city," law said.
Calling public safety his "top priority," Law cited the work of police and firefighters to increase safety throughout the city's parks and trails and to work with citizens to identify and address problems, such as one North Renton landlord against whom criminal charges are being prepared, thanks in part to a new ordinance to deal with property owners who allow illegal activities on their land.
As for the economic state of the city, Law said he believed it was "on the rebound."
The mayor cited continued economic development and growth in the city, noting that The Landing has seen new businesses move in, record sales at existing business and the apartments located there are at 90 percent occupancy.
Though, the mayor said, there were still issues to address.
"Downtown Renton continues to struggle," he said, noting the recent announcement that after more than 60 years in business, Renton Western Wear closed its doors.
Law said he intends to host a meeting of downtown property and business owners in coming weeks to "discuss and re-prioritize our efforts in revitalizing our downtown core."
Much of the mayor's speech, however, was focused on the partnerships the city has built with local groups and businesses. Law highlighted the Boeing Co.'s increased 737 production as well as the partnership with the Seahawks, which draws more than 20,000 fans to Renton each summer.
The Renton Municipal Airport is also scheduled to undergo its most extensive improvements in more than 50 years, including the replacement of taxiways and the construction of a new bridge from Boeing to the runway. He also cited an anticipated $12.5 million aerospace training facility set at the airport. Airport improvements are to be funded by the federal government, Boeing and the city.
The mayor also spoke of the collaboration between the city and Puget Sound Access designed to change the theater into a state-of-the-art multimedia studio.
City Council members cited the mayor's focus on partnerships as the biggest takeaway from this year's speech.
"Renton's success is the strength of its partnerships," said Council memnber Rich Zwicker.
"That's what's holding us all together," Council member Don Persson echoed.
Council member Ed Prince cited the economic parts of the mayor's speech, noting that the city has done a "masterful job" competing through the economic downturn and said he shares the mayor's optimism for a growing Renton economy.
"I think we're in really great shape as a city," he said.
"Renton's in a good place," council member Marci Palmer agreed. "It's been well-managed during a very difficult time."
"There's a bright future for the businesses and citizens of Renton," said new Chamber of Commerce CEO Lynn Wallace, adding that "partnerships make things happen."
To read or watch the mayor's speech, visit www.rentonwa.gov.