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November 29, 2023

Woodinville’s downtown redevelopment project may be changing

Real Estate Editor

Rendering by Graham Baba Architects [enlarge]
Planning on the project goes back some 10 years, with Molbak’s intended as the anchor retail tenant.

Plans first came to light in Woodinville, in the spring of last year, for the redevelopment of the over 19-acre Molbak's property.

The mixed-use project, to incorporate housing, restaurants, retail and a new home for Molbak's, was later dubbed the Gardens District.

Now, says the family-owned Molbak's, it's been forced out of the project by landowner Green Partners LLC, which is related to Cascade Investment, the family office for Bill Gates. (The Molbak family sold the land in 2008, owing in part to the Great Recession.)

Molbak's CEO Julie Kouhia said in a Tuesday press release, “We're shocked and devastated that Green Partners is cutting us out of the Gardens District. We're still reeling from this news, and considering a range of options as we work to better understand this sudden change.”

Update: Cascade Investment said after deadline, “Cascade is surprised by the Molbak’s announcements, given that we have no plans to remove Molbak’s Garden + Home from its current location. We’ve been partners with Jens Molbak since 2008, and allowed Molbak’s to operate for years with significantly below-market rent.”

The statement continued with the surprising news that “Cascade is no longer planning to develop the Gardens District.” That project will evidently continue with a different ownership structure. Cascade says Molbak’s has years left on its lease, and that, “We expect that the Gardens District will serve the needs of Woodinville, regardless of what Molbak’s decides is in its interest.”

Planned by GGLO, the large phased project is to initially include some 220 apartments over a new Molbak's store at or near 13625 N.E. 175th St., east of the current store. That's Phase I, designed by GGLO and Graham Baba Architects, with about 130,000 square feet slated for Molbak's (including greenhouses outside the main building). Sierra is attached as the builder for the five-story, over 550,000-square-foot project — with substantial mass timber elements.

Final permits for that, and four future phases, are still pending. The city issued a mitigated SEPA determination of non-significance for the project in May. Overall project parameters could, over many years, see the development of some 1,210 multifamily units and 400,000 square feet of commercial space (including the Molbak's space). About 1.7 million square feet of development is proposed in total, including open space and parking.

The family business was founded in 1956 by recent Danish immigrants; it's now in its second generation of ownership. Both the Gates and Molbak families knew each other in the 1970s and 1980s while their various children attended Lakeside School together.

Phase I leasing materials from CBRE offer two large bays of restaurant space in that building, totaling around 8,400 square feet, plus a smaller retail bay.

The listing says that LEED Gold certification will be sought, and projects a possible opening date in 2025. That, of course, depends on city permits. And if the Molbak's dispute goes to court, that could further affect the Phase I schedule.

Once you sell the land beneath your feet, you no longer control your destiny. Is Molbak's, like so many other small family-owned legacy businesses, doomed to leave its longtime home? And where could it possibly find 19 affordable acres near Seattle?

Kouhia strikes a slightly ambiguous note, and perhaps a negotiating posture, in saying, “We've asked Green Partners to reconsider its decision and meet with us to find a way to make that happen.”


Brian Miller can be reached by email at brian.miller@djc.com or by phone at (206) 219-6517.

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