Iconic Federal Way skating rink to anchor new South King County Community Center

Michelle Geonanga has skated every rink between Olympia and Burlington, but, she says, the energy of the former Pattison’s West Skating Center “can’t be matched.”

When the family owners decided last year to sell the roller rink and retired, many of the most dedicated skaters were devastated.

But this month, El Centro de la Raza purchased the property from the Pattison family, saving the cherished community asset from the threat of permanent closure. Organizers at El Centro said they were keenly aware of the rink’s reputation and legacy – and intended to preserve this.

“If El Centro hadn’t picked it up, it would have been a sad moment for us because there’s so much good that came out of that rink,” Geonanga said. “It’s just too iconic to tear down and tear this floor apart.”

Renowned for its ultra-smooth maple floors and turning history several Olympic athletesthe rink is one of the few remaining in the Puget Sound area inline skating community.

Now named El Centro Skate Rink, it will be the anchor for a major redevelopment project to provide safety net services, community programs and affordable housing for South King County residents, said Miguel Maestas , director of housing and economic development for the nonprofit.

“We see this as a wonderful opportunity to use the rink for the public good,” Maestas said.

Standing in the existing parking lot one October morning, Maestas pointed to the north corner of the property and outlined the organization’s vision.

A new three-story community center where kids who dropped out of high school could earn a GED and seniors could play the Lotería. A gravel parking lot could turn into a mercado where vendors can sell jewelry, food, or cultural items, like Pike Place Market. Dominoes and chess tables would dot a small parking space. Just across the street to the east, the organization would build over 200 affordable housing units and a bilingual early learning center.

As for the skating center itself, El Centro de la Raza has offered to expand part of it to increase its event space, but nothing else will change.

I can definitely see it and feel it,” Maestas said. “You know, it’s a bit far…but we have a really wonderful vision of what to do here, and we’re going to work hard to make it happen.”

El Centro de la Raza purchased the property for $6.5 million and continues to seek public funds and philanthropic dollars to fund the redevelopment. Maestas estimates that construction will take place over the next three to seven years.

The Federal Way purchase marks a new chapter for El Centro de la Raza, a nonprofit organization with roots in Beacon Hill who recently celebrated 50 years of social service and advocacy for racial justice.

Officials say the proposed community campus will provide programs for residents of South King County, helping marginalized communities who have been increasingly excluded from Seattle are building self-sufficiency and financial independence.

About two-thirds of King County’s Latino population now lives south of the city, executive director Estela Ortega said, “and yet they came (to Beacon Hill) for food, for help when they were homeless, for programs for the elderly, for issues with children,” Ortega said.

In 2019, El Centro established a physical presence in Federal Way, purchasing a small beige brick office building across from the rink. It was a happy accident that made the opportunity to buy the former Pattison’s West too good to pass up, Maestas said.

The timeline for when the new community center and affordable housing could sprout is still evolving, Ortega said. Final plans for the development design will be released next year.

The final cost of the redevelopment project will not be finalized by then, according to Ortega. Plaza Roberto Maestas, a transit-oriented mixed-use building affordable housing development in Beacon Hill run by El Centro, cost about $45 million to complete in 2016, she said.

Investing in Federal Way was a “bold step” necessitated by South King County’s demographic transformation, Ortega said.

Many residents still face the same economic and social pressures that forced them out of Seattle in the first place, said Nina Martinez, board chair of the Latino Civic Alliance, which runs a youth program at Federal Way. aimed at reducing school violence.

In Federal Way, a majority of residents identify as people of color, and the local school district is one of the most diverse in the country. The storefronts of a shopping center near the new office highlight the mix of cultures: between body and auto repair shops are a Salvadoran restaurant, a Filipino-Japanese-Chamorro fusion restaurant and a golf school owned by Koreans.

“We need to build capacity in communities of color or we’re going to be left behind,” Ortega said. “Affordable housing, a community center or the construction of a small shopping center — our people must develop these assets so that the community can develop.

Median household income in Federal Way is less than $79,000, higher than nearby Des Moines and lower than Kent, Auburn and King County as a whole. About 11% of residents live in poverty, according to recent US Census Bureau figures. Rents and housing prices in the suburban city are rising.

“The area has grown much faster than the city budget or regional resources could support,” said Rep. Jamila Taylor, D-Federal Way, who helped secure about $1.25 million in seed funding to help El Centro de la Raza purchase the rink.

In terms of regional amenities, few are more revered in South King County than the former Pattison’s West Skating Center. The rink has been an area staple for decades, said Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, a place where generations of residents have hosted birthday parties and family celebrations.

“The rink has always been such a big gathering place,” said Spencer Johnson, the skating center’s new manager, who has worked there on and off since he was a teenager, along with his father, Ramon Johnson.

For Geonanga, the skater, the adult night sessions are what keep her coming to the rink three days a week. That’s when the vibrations are electric, she says.

Pop music fills the space as Technicolor lights bounce off the rink’s shiny floors and neon-print carpets. A steady stream of slushies and nachos are dispensed from the snack bar. Some are circling the rink all night, Geonanga said. There are the JB skaters and skater jams, those who skate Detroit style Where Atlanta way.

“Someone is going to breakdance on the floor, and you’re like, ‘Did they really just do that?’ said Geonanga.

While other parts of the community campus will take time, El Centro de la Raza and the rink staff are eager to reopen the skating center for general public sessions within weeks, under the new name.

It’s a “new adventure” for the famed skating facility, said Ramon Johnson, who worked at the rink for nearly four decades and will now serve as assistant manager to his son.

“I have people chomping at the bit,” he said. “Every day I get messages from people, ‘When are you going to be open?’ ”

Jill E. Washington