Friday, August 4, 2006
Biggest construction year yet reshaping Bellevue
By Ashley Bach
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Downtown Bellevue's real-estate market is on fire. Construction cranes seem to loom over nearly every intersection, as more than 4 million square feet of glitzy new condos, offices and retail stores take shape.
This is the biggest year ever for development in the city, officials say.
• Building permits for about $625 million worth of square footage are expected to be approved this year, shattering the old record of $460 million set in 1999.
• A dozen major projects are under construction; a dozen more are in the permit pipeline.
• About 1,700 apartments or condos are being built, with another 3,000 units in the works.
To the delight of city leaders, the development is not just office space, as in previous booms. A new hotel tower is planned, Overlake Hospital is expanding, upscale retailers like Neiman Marcus are on the way — and about 10,000 people are expected to move downtown in the next 15 years.
"It's just unbelievable, how much is going on and what's coming," said Mike Brennan, the city's deputy director of development services.
Already a major draw for shoppers and corporate headquarters, the epicenter of the Eastside stands to gain even more vitality and visibility.
Including current construction and projects in the pipeline, the amount of downtown office space will jump from 6.9 million square feet to some 9.7 million. Retail space will increase from 3.8 million square feet to 4.7 million, and apartments and condos will swell from 3,500 units to 8,100. About 15,000 parking spots will be added.
The construction is part of a regional and national building boom — Seattle has its share of major projects, too — but Bellevue's relatively modest skyline is being transformed. About 20 high-rises are under construction or planned, and they'll take their place alongside the city's tallest building, Lincoln Square's 42-story south tower, which opened last fall.
Not that growth is easy. City leaders say they're finding it hard to hire enough building inspectors to keep up with the demand, and some residents don't appreciate the rumble of dump trucks and trackhoes.
Leaders in the neighborhoods next to downtown say they love being able to walk to a show or a nice dinner — and the nightlife options are growing each month. But they also worry about cut-through traffic, light pollution and crime that may come with the new development.
"We want the city to honor their promise to preserve the neighborhoods ... from increased urbanization," said Renay Bennett, president of the Bellecrest Neighborhood Association.
Much of the available land in other suburbs is gone, Brennan said, and downtown Bellevue and Seattle are some of the last places for large, intense development in the Puget Sound region.
Bellevue city leaders laid out their vision 25 years ago with a "wedding-cake" design that would bunch the tallest buildings in the downtown core, with medium-size buildings on the outskirts.
After the state Growth Management Act was passed in 1990, the city decided to funnel most of its new residents into a downtown that still had plenty of room left to grow.
Now the sidewalks on Bellevue Way are filled with people day and night, and the buildings are rising.
"It's a very exciting time in the city's history," Mayor Grant Degginger said.