Allison, 39, who began serving his two-year term as mayor on Jan. 3, says he often has trouble finding activities to do with his four school-age children within Maple Valley; even youth sports are mostly played in neighboring communities.
“It’s a hotel, it really is,” Allison says. “People live here, and they go work elsewhere, they go shop elsewhere, and they go play elsewhere. And it’s like, so how do we keep them here?”
The answer, he says, is to create more economic development while building sports fields and other communal spaces.
Allison grew up in Issaquah and moved to Maple Valley in 1999 to serve as a youth pastor in Kent. He now works as a driving instructor at I-5 Driving School in Maple Valley. He was inspired to run for council in 2009 after repeatedly listening to other parents complain, especially about the lack of sports play areas.
“They come here for the school district, and they come here because it’s got this charm and this feeling about it — and we don’t want to lose that — but we have to create a vision where families continue to want to stay here.”
He envisions a civic space where “on a Saturday morning driving by you see the soccer teams out there … you see the families gathered in a common place.”
The Summit park plan, which would include baseball and softball fields, is a step in that direction, Allison says. The fields would be constructed on 23 acres of city-owned property behind the Les Schwab Tire store at the southern end of Four Corners.
Construction of the first phase of the Summit park site was expected to begin this winter, but it is on hold due to lack of funding. Allison says the city is looking into forming a public-private partnership or running a bond to raise the $19 million.
“Those are the only ways that we see us being able to get a ballfield done,” he says, acknowledging that a bond may be a tough sell on the heels of last year’s failed school bond. He notes that a bond to cover sports fields would cost far less per household than the school bond would have.
Ultimately, the way to reduce the need for bonds is to encourage more economic development, Allison says.
The new Fred Meyer complex under construction at Four Corners could be a tipping point for the city, reassuring other developers that Maple Valley is a good place to do business, he says. More development means more jobs in Maple Valley, which has a snowball effect in terms of attracting retail stores, restaurants and even entertainment options such as a bowling alley or a YMCA.
“To have a nice restaurant … you need a daytime population here. You can’t just survive off the nighttime population,” Allison says.
Without overdoing the commercial growth, as in Covington and Kent, he says, “we have to start meeting the need of what Maple Valley looks like today, and what it’s going to look like 20 to 30 years from now.
“We talk about it time and time again that Maple Valley’s got so much potential, but now we’ve got to step up to that potential.”