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May 27, 2021
Throughout its history, from settlement in the late 19th century to incorporation in 1953, and into the 21st century, Bellevue has blossomed as a true gem of a city here in the Pacific Northwest. In the early 1900s, approximately 50 years after it was first settled, the area was logged off and made suitable for growing fruits and vegetables and began attracting hundreds of settlers each year.
Since it was incorporated, Bellevue’s annual population growth has averaged 5%, and in recent years the area has cultivated a growing identity as an up-and-coming technology and corporate hub. Bellevue is the fifth largest city in Washington behind Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver. In 2016, Vulcan Real Estate began adding properties in this dynamic city to our portfolio of assets. We now own 7.5 acres of land in the Bellevue CBD where we are developing 2 million square feet of office along with 64,000 square feet of retail space; we are also in predevelopment for 360 residential units.
Last fall, Amazon announced that it would expand its Eastside footprint in several new office buildings including Bellevue 600 and Vulcan Real Estate’s developments at 555 Tower and West Main, both of which broke ground about a year ago with delivery scheduled for early 2023.
Vulcan Real Estate’s goal is to create industry-leading places that generate lasting value for generations. Our community-focused development aims to enhance the pedestrian experience through ground level activation. Our team works with the city and other stakeholders to develop a vibrant program that incorporates public art, seating areas, landscaping and retail into a cohesive program designed to meet the needs of the neighborhood.
Over the course of the last year, outdoor areas have played an integral role in preserving our mental and physical health, allowing us to stay active and connected with one another. Public gathering spaces will continue to attract people and our goal is to create spaces that provide unique experiences for all to enjoy. Our plans for Bellevue will create inviting spaces for office workers, residents and visitors to convene that will ultimately reactivate the city’s sidewalks and existing retail scene.
Pedestrian-friendly spaces at 555 Tower include a transition between the office and the Grand Connection, a walkway linking Meydenbauer Bay Park and the Civic Center District. The design features a 22,000-square-foot, two-story retail pavilion surrounded by a paved sidewalk and plaza. Lush landscaping, outdoor seating and public art will further activate this area.
West Main’s expansive property will include three dynamically designed towers with office and retail uses. Retail will occupy the buildings’ ground floor along Main Street and 106th Avenue Northeast, including a 17,000-square-foot retail space fronting Main Street. The project design includes a 20,000-square-foot plaza that will enhance east-west connections through the large 4-acre site and encourage pedestrians to linger, take in the greenery and admire the artistic treatment of the core walls: thousands of colored stainless steel panels will extend from the ground level all the way to the roof, in red, blue and aqua hues, reminiscent of water shimmering in the light.
Both 555 Tower and West Main will expand upon Vulcan Real Estate’s extensive commissioning of public art. Since our inception, 0.5% of each construction budget is voluntarily dedicated to the curation and creation of public art that captures the community’s identity and collective values at each project. While artists contributing to our Bellevue projects have yet to be named, we are excited to be planning the future art installations for each project.
In recent years, Bellevue has taken action to create a friendlier downtown environment for pedestrians. A multiple-year Downtown Livability Initiative was instituted in 2017 which involved the update of land use codes to enhance the pedestrian environment, improve the area as a residential setting and boost the identity and character of downtown “urban villages.” We have aligned our current development plans with the vision our leaders have for the city.
Making the downtown area accessible to locals and visitors alike, and creating pathways to explore the city’s urban landscape, is one of our ways of giving back to the community. The city and previous developers have done a tremendous job bringing retail services, storefronts and restaurants to the area. We plan to build on that foundation by curating a compelling combination of unique restaurants, cafes, general retail and services to support and complement the office landscape while also serving residents and becoming a destination in their own right to attract visitors from neighboring areas.
Bellevue’s downtown is sure to benefit from the soon-to-be completed light rail station, which will have a transformational impact on accessibility between downtown Seattle and the Eastside. Its opening in 2023 further necessitates the need for publicly accessible urban spaces and reduces the need for a car to navigate the city. Tech companies are also contributing to this shift, changing the area’s demographics by bringing more, mostly younger, talent to the area. The resulting housing constraints are creating opportunities for developers to build new housing quickly to address the expanding population’s needs.
Bellevue continues to maintain its position as a dynamic urban environment thanks to the support of the city’s commitment to infrastructure and the influence of our many technology companies. To sustain growth in a way that is responsible, inspiring and promotes productivity, we must also think about how the built environment facilitates community-building. As our Bellevue projects advance through design and construction, we plan to listen to a broad range of constituents our tenants, local business-owners, city residents and more to create an all-encompassing, symbiotic outdoor environment and retail program for all to enjoy.
Geralyn Vannoy executes the commercial leasing strategy for Vulcan Real Estate’s investment portfolio and serves as asset manager for select Vulcan properties.