July 26, 2007

Bellevue loads up on urban projects

  • Development is pushing across Interstate 405 in the form of 3 million square feet of office space and 1,000 apartments in the Bel-Red corridor.
    Wright Runstad & Co.


    Bellevue has arrived in a big way. When the region talks about urban development, it’s not just about Seattle anymore. The signs are everywhere that this once-cozy collection of Eastside suburbs is a now a thriving urban region, with Bellevue at its center.

    No matter what indicator one examines, Bellevue is a bonafide urban center:

    • More than 2,500 apartments and condominiums — from the high-end Bellevue Towers to the moderately priced Vida — are under construction in downtown Bellevue.

    • Downtown Bellevue has one of the tightest office markets in the country. While downtown Seattle’s vacancy rate is more than 9 percent, Bellevue’s is less than 4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield. No wonder Bellevue’s average rent is $2.80 per square foot higher than Seattle’s.

    • Bellevue landed the largest office deal in Puget Sound-area history when Microsoft took 1.3 million square feet.

    • Neiman Marcus picked Bellevue, not Seattle, for its only store in the Northwest.

    • Kemper Development has announced a $1 billion renovation to remodel Bellevue Square and enlarge the Hyatt Regency.

    Perhaps the biggest sign of Bellevue’s arrival is that the Sunday New York Times recently took notice of all the change. Bellevue is clearly no longer Seattle’s little sister.

    With a strong and growing job market, particularly in high tech, Bellevue is home to some of the world’s most well known companies, such as, T-Mobile, Paccar and Symetra Financial. This influx of tech jobs and workers has caused demand for more convenient residential and working space throughout the city. And the pace has quickened considerably. The city of Bellevue has had to hire additional staff to handle its 13,800 construction-related permits.

    The city’s forward-looking urban planning has been central to its success. Over the years, Bellevue leaders have deftly guided the city’s growth through smart urban planning and long-term vision. The result has attracted commercial, residential and cultural development. And Bellevue continues to attract the kinds of amenities that make it an exciting place to live, work and shop. The city’s embrace of new pedestrian-friendly streetscapes and mass transit, including light rail, will usher in even more positive changes.

    Wright Runstad & Co. has known for a long time how much promise Bellevue holds. That’s why we decided to become a major player in the community more than 25 years ago. We worked with the city of Bellevue on its downtown high-rise zoning regulations, and in 1983 opened One Bellevue Center, one of city’s first high-rise buildings constructed under that zoning. Today, we’re the development manager of City Center Plaza, the latest in the new generation of high-rises.

    We are confident that Bellevue will continue to prosper. It’s one reason we jumped at the chance to buy 36 acres along with our partner, Shorenstein Properties, in the Bel-Red corridor earlier this year. This development, our seventh major project in Bellevue, represents the largest Wright Runstad & Co. has undertaken.

    In Bel-Red, we’re working closely with the city to develop a highly sustainable urban village with 3 million square feet of office space (that’s the equivalent of three Washington Mutual Towers) and 1,000 apartments. We envision that the project will include a large central plaza, a light-rail station and other amenities to support this new pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

    The city has been thoughtful and deliberate about what it intends for this corridor, and we’re excited about the vision that is emerging from the community-driven planning process. The final recommendation for the 900-acre Bel-Red corridor is expected in September. Once adopted by the City Council, the plan will guide development in the area as it transitions from traditional light-industrial and warehouse uses into Bellevue’s newest neighborhood. The community stakeholders have developed a diverse mixed-use vision that will complement and strengthen the downtown core by offering more alternatives for businesses to choose Bellevue as their home.

    The prospects for the Eastside and Bellevue, in particular, remain brighter than ever. More and more employers are seeing the benefits of locating in downtown Bellevue. New luxury and moderately priced condominiums are reshaping downtown, attracting more restaurants and other urban amenities.

    We are Bellevue believers. The city is fortunate to have some of the world’s most dynamic companies call the Eastside home. That is not enough. Bellevue benefits from an innovative public and community spirit as well, one that looks to the future with confidence and vision. It’s no wonder Bellevue has become the West Coast’s newest urban hot spot.

    Greg Johnson is president of Wright Runstad & Co., a commercial real estate development and operating company. Wright Runstad has more than 3 million square feet of space under development, including more than 1 million square feet under construction.

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