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RENTON, WA-For months, rumors have been taking off and landing around Boeing’s commercial airplane plant here — rumors that these operations could someday end up being moved further north to Everett. But, unlike the early 1990′s — when the aerospace giant hoisted several thousand Renton employees and relocated them to Everett—the city is more prepared.

The 1993 move busted the chops of Renton’s tax base and blew its office market out to a 40% vacancy rate. Thus far, Boeing has insisted there are no plans for a similar move. But, with tens of thousands of layoffs now pending, the 1993 memory remains crystal clear for Renton. And since, the city has been working diligently to take itself out of harm’s way in the event of a repeat.

Eight years ago Renton’s civic and business leadership recognized the need for a wider diversity of industry. Since, it has been wooing new retailers, office tenants and higher-density residential development. After 1993, the city acquired five acres of downtown property, which was redeveloped to land key retailers–Ikea home furnishings, Fred Meyer, Wal-Mart and Home Base.

Colliers International reports the good news is Ikea is planning to expand its store here–more than doubling its space to 330,000 sf through the addition of 28 showrooms, 500 parking stalls and an enlarged restaurant. The bad news–Renton’s Home Base store is slated for closure. CB Richard Ellis reports that vacancies in the Southend’s retail sector (with more than 13.95 million sf) were running 3.34% mid-year. As for Renton’s office sector, its second quarter vacancy rate of 6.68% was well under the Southend average of 10.67% and fathoms below nearby Kent’s 28.03%.

Sue Carlson, the city’s administrator of economic development, tells GlobeSt.com, “Our strategy for the next year or two–assuming the current (economic) downturn continues and we won’t see a lot of new buildings—is to market to companies outside Puget Sound and outside the state—and get them to relocate here.” The catch is the economy. “If there’s absolutely no market, there’s no point in spending the money,” she adds. Carlson says the city is also looking at its infrastructure to see what else might be needed to prepare the city for when the economy turns around.

What Renton has going for it, says Carlson, is developable land — the source of which is surplus of Puget Sound Energy and Boeing. She cites for example a Boeing parking lot off Interstate 405 at the Park Avenue exit she says will be going to market soon. “That property has great visibility and access — and no buildings on it. Properties like this create opportunities for Renton that other cities don’t have.”

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