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How Bellevue Has Grown From Sleepy Suburb To A Thriving Hub

As Bellevue has grown, it has changed dramatically from its sleepy suburban roots. Wallace Properties President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Wallace, who sits on the Bellevue City Council, has seen those changes unfold firsthand.

Kevin Wallace

"Bellevue has seen a massive transformation over the last 25 years, primarily due to Microsoft and Kemper Development," he said.

Wallace, who comes from a real estate family, grew up in Bellevue. After practicing real estate law for seven years, he moved to Wallace Properties about 10 years ago.

He said Microsoft's growth brought in employees from around the world who earned top-dollar salaries, spawning a tech boom that grew Bellevue from a white suburban city to one of the most diverse cities in the country.

Bellevue has become a major tech hub. The city holds offices for Amazon, Salesforce, Microsoft, T-Mobile, HTC, Expedia, Concur, Paccar, Boeing and Symetra. The latest wave has come from video game developers, including Bungie, Valve and ArenaNet.

"The continued growth of the tech companies, and high demand from other industries as well, will continue to make Bellevue a viable place for development of all commercial building types," he said.

He credits Kemper Development Co. for being the catalyst behind the city's commercial growth by taking a strip center in the then-small suburban city and turning it into an enclosed mall surrounded by office towers, hotels, apartments and condos, an art museum and an under-construction performing arts center.

"Bellevue would not be Bellevue if not for the Freeman family and their skillful, methodical, risky and massive investments in the development and operation of the Bellevue Collection," he said.

Lincoln Square Tateuchi Center
Rendering of the Tateuchi Center performing arts venue

The Bellevue Collection encompasses about 5.5M SF and includes Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square.

In some ways, Bellevue is paying for its success; it lacks enough office space to keep up with demand, according to a recent JLL report. In Bellevue's central business district, which has had 1M SF of positive net absorption so far this year, there are few large blocks of office space and no projects under construction. The Eastside, the group of suburban cities that lie east of Lake Washington and includes Bellevue, has 3.6M SF of office requirements, JLL reports.

To address the demand, Wallace said the city will finish rezoning Downtown Bellevue in October. The rezoning will expand office development land downtown, encourage denser development and allow taller towers.

New office will come online with Hines' Summit III and Touchstone's 34-story office tower, and Vulcan has been acquiring properties that would be great for office in the next cycle, Wallace said. Zoning updates will also create more tech building opportunities across the freeway in Wilburton, and he anticipates more office development in Bel-Red as well.

The city has been responsive with zoning to support development, including the growth corridor between downtown and Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wallace said. Bellevue is investing $300M in expanding roads into the growth corridor, the state is expanding Interstate 405 and Sound Transit is adding light rail.

The city has 1,350 acres zoned for high-density, transit-oriented development — equivalent to all of the land in downtown Seattle west of Interstate 5 from South Lake Union to Safeco Field, Wallace said.

Wallace Properties develops mixed-use, transit-oriented properties. As Bellevue has grown into a transit-oriented city in the growth corridor, the city government has focused on those things that support TODs, such as transit, land use plans and infrastructure — all things that help create a live-work-play environment, he said.

Hear more from Wallace and other Bellevue leaders at The Future of Bellevue event Oct. 17 at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.