After decades of talking, feds put up $80M to move Lakewood businesses away from JBLM

The federal government is putting up $80 million to move Lakewood businesses located in a danger zone near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Twenty-one businesses ranging from auto shops to tactical gear manufacturers are at risk if a plane were to crash near the base.

Lakewood announced Monday it is partnering with the state and the Department of Defense to move the businesses away from JBLM’s McChord Field runway. The defense agency has agreed to provide up to $80 million over 50 years.

The federal government has determined that 3,000 feet from the end of a runway has the highest-possibility for aircraft accidents and called for these “clear zones” to be free of development and obstruction.

Tactical Tailor is one of the businesses in the JBLM clear zone. The owner hopes to sell the building to the city before the end of the year. The tactical gear manufacturing business contracts with the base for equipment and would be the first business to take up the government’s offer.

With more than 140 employees, Tactical Tailor is the largest business in the clear zone.

“A lot of companies could kick and scream about it, but it’s inevitable so we worked with the city,” CEO of Tactical Tailor Casey Ingels said. “The area is important. It’s a family company. We have deep roots. Our greatest fear is that we would move away from base, so we are only looking at Lakewood.”

The City of Lakewood wants businesses to stay in the city and is willing to help in the relocation process. With $2.5 million from the state and $80 million from the federal government, a Lakewood economic team will help businesses look for new properties, pay fair-market value for their current property and demo the building in the clear zone.

“It takes time and hand-holding and we are willing to do whatever the business needs,” said Becky Newton, Lakewood’s economic development manager. “Our priority is business retention.”

‘Same song and dance for 40 years’

JBLM conducted a study in 1975 that showed businesses were located in an at-risk zone. In the 1950s, a crash in the clear zone killed 37 people, said Bill Adamson, Lakewood’s South Sound military and communities partnership manager.

With help from federal funding, Pierce County and Lakewood purchased land in and surrounding the clear zone, outside the 21 existing properties, to prevent further development. No money was allocated to relocate the businesses until 2016, Adamson said.

The project manager lobbied the Department of Defense, which last month awarded $50 million to Lakewood to acquire the property in the clear zone, relocate the businesses and perform environmental remediation and demolition to strip the clear zone over the first 10 years of a 50-year deal. An additional $30 million would be allocated until 2069.

Property owners have been told they need to relocate for years, but many don’t take the news seriously.

“They have heard the same song and dance for 40 years and don’t believe it’s going to happen,” Adamson said.

The city has a 20-year plan to move all the businesses, starting with those closest to the center of the square-shaped zone.

Lakewood holds condemnation as a last resort to force businesses to leave. The properties already are listed as “non-conforming,” which would prevent current businesses from expanding or new businesses from moving in.

“We anticipate some push back, and we might need to do condemnation if it gets to that,” Adamson said.

Tactical Tailor’s CEO said they are looking to build a new warehouse elsewhere in Lakewood within the next three years.

Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.