Bellevue's the Next Big Thing
If Bellevue doesn’t count as an up-and-coming 21st-century city, then the Jetsons aren't a 21st-century family. According to Bisnow’s Future of Bellevue panelists, the city’s got all its ducks in a row: world-class employers, a talented workforce from all over the world, a lot of amenities, solid infrastructure, and an efficient government that wants growth.
Income and education levels are high in Bellevue, and that’s going to help attract more people with high incomes and educational attainments—a happy cycle that bodes well for Bellevue multifamily, retail, and office. (It's not as good for lazy Bellevue crossword puzzle creators.) Over 400 real estate pros came to the Hyatt Regency Bellevue on Tuesday to hear our panelists in the round.
Kemper Development CEO Kemper Freeman, whose family has done so much since the 1940s to make Bellevue what it is, says Bellevue’s moment is now—with some of the greatest companies in the world choosing to be downtown, and tremendous growth ahead for multifamily, retail, and restaurants. No small part of that is 2M SF his company will develop in the next three years. He does stress, however, that the city needs a better transportation plan, or risk being choked by gridlock in coming decades.
Wallace Properties prez Kevin Wallace, who’s also deputy mayor of Bellevue, says that there are a lot of apartments on the horizon, so there might be some short-term oversupply issues downtown. But from a long-term perspective, Bellevue’s one of the best places to put your money, he says, with the city eager to keep its infrastructure in good shape. He acknowledges that traffic is a concern, but also points out city efforts that include the recent traffic light optimization downtown that’s already increasing capacity.
Security Properties prez John Orehek, whose company is busy with major multifamily development in the Spring District, says that he’s looking at growing demand from high-tech and service workers. Bellevue’s attracting an even more diverse and international workforce than in Seattle, and accommodating the newcomers will be something of a challenge. A more predictable planning and approval process would help, he says.
Vander Hoek Corp prez Stu Vander Hoek, whose family is a long-standing developer in Old Bellevue, says that there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity in that part of town. Even though the demographics of Bellevue are changing—including the strong influx of residents from other parts of the world—people want more of the Old Bellevue experience. (We purchase Ragu Old World Style, so we can totally relate.) His company is planning to provide more of that experience at Gateway, a mixed-use development at Bellevue Way and Main with 370 apartments and 26k SF of retail; he says it’ll be underway soon.
JLL managing director Steve Schwartz says he’s looking forward to seeing more office towers come out of the ground (and to putting tenants in them). Both employers and employees want efficiency and flexibility in their office space, and new Bellevue residents want flexibility in their living arrangements. (See what yoga does to everybody?) Retention of the businesses that are already here is critical to further growth, he says, because Bellevue is now competing with the major urban centers of the world.
NBBJ partner Kay Compton, who leads the firm’s commercial practice globally, says it’s about the outdoors here—people are attracted to Bellevue to access the water and the mountains: “We don’t want to be a mini-Manhattan.” (Does mini-Manhattan include a Littler Little Italy?) Still, Bellevue's office space, and in fact the city's urban environment, are becoming more dense. Developers can’t use old pro formas, but have to build more flexibility into their designs to provide open space as well as private, secure space, such as rooftop gardens. Developers need to be bold and design something different, she says, and if they do, tenants will come.
Talon managing principal Bill Pollard says that now is a time of dynamic change in office properties, not just driven by tech companies (though they’re important), but by the fact that tech is becoming integral to every industry. “Walk into a law or accounting firm these days, and you’d think it was a tech company,” he says. Also, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials are all officing in space that’s becoming denser, not because companies necessarily want denser space, but employees do. Bill points out that there are more than 125 corporations in Bellevue that weren’t only five years ago.
Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt shareholder Aaron Laing, who’s a land-use attorney, expertly moderated. Aaron himself is quite active in the civic life of the city, currently serving as vice chair of Bellevue Planning Commission and co-chair of the Downtown Livability Citizen Advisory Committee.