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Bellevue's Future: Bigger, Richer, More Diverse

Bisnow's recent Future of Bellevue event kicked off with some impressive numbers about Bellevue and its economy. In 2015, the Downtown workforce was about 46,000. By 2030, it is forecast to be 70,000. Only about 900 people lived Downtown in 2000. By 2015, 11,000 did, and by 2030, as many as 19,000 will.

But growth is more than population numbers. In Bellevue's case, diversity is growing too. The city is now the first minority-majority city in Washington state, and 42% of its residents are foreign-born, many of them essential to the tech boom. What lies ahead for the city is more growth but also more diversity.

Wallace Properties President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Wallace, also a City of Bellevue council member, FANA Group President John Powers and City of Bellevue Council member Conrad Lee, who moderated

Wallace Properties President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Wallace, who is also a City of Bellevue council member, said one of the strengths of Bellevue as a real estate market — and something that helps attract investors — is the focus of city government on city fundamentals. 

"For instance, we replace our utilities on a rolling, 75-year basis," Wallace said. "That way the city isn't playing catchup, as so many cities are, when it comes to replacing vital infrastructure."

Wallace said Bellevue could accommodate Amazon HQ2 and, indeed, the city put in a bid.

"Bellevue has the capacity to make that happen in our growth corridor, which is about 1,350 acres that could hold millions of square feet of office and other development."

October was a signal month for planning in Bellevue. The city adopted a major revision to land use code, including updating some Downtown Bellevue zoning designations, increasing allowed building heights and floor areas, requiring wider sidewalks on many streets, establishing specific through-block connection requirements, and promoting better pedestrian-oriented streets through ground-floor requirements.

FANA Group President John Powers said the attention to planning and infrastructure certainly point to a successful future, in as much as they encourage companies to come here and talented workers to live here. There is every indication that is the case, he said.

Amazon HQ2 will probably not come here.

"If geographic separation from the main headquarters isn't important, then Bellevue would be an ideal place for the second one. But it seems that the company wants to go somewhere else in the United States."

Even so, Amazon and other major employers understand that Bellevue is a strong place to grow, Powers said.

"Companies want to be here. Even Expedia is keeping a large Eastside presence. Companies will continue to grow their presence here."

Seattle Symphony President and CEO Simon Woods, also an advisory council member for Tateuchi Center; Bellevue Arts Museum Executive Director Benedict Heywood, Coffee Flour Executive Chef Jason Wilson, also owner of The Lakehouse and Civility & Unrest, Kemper Development Co. President James Melby and Perkins Coie partner Kristine Wilson, who moderated

Kemper Development Co. President James Melby called the changes occurring in Bellevue dramatic, but only the beginning.

"The demand — which Kemper always tries to read — is for a complete city, economically and culturally. It wasn't so long ago that Bellevue used to be mostly a 9-to-5 city."

Melby said Bellevue's cultural growth as a city has something of a pyramid shape, with the expansion of restaurants at the base (about 40 in Kemper's developments alone, not counting quick-service), movie theaters and activity-based bars the next levels up, and live entertainment at the top.

As these kinds of cultural amenities grow, so does the demand for office and hotel space in the vicinity, Melby said.

"They're all part of the puzzle, and they're all coming together in a way that Bellevue's never seen before." 

Coffee Flour Executive Chef Jason Wilson, who is also owner of The Lakehouse and Civility & Unrest, said when planning his restaurants, placemaking and authenticity are key considerations.

"The Lakehouse is a place to gather, but it also incorporates elements of the history of Bellevue."

Restaurants and food are essential to the culture of a place, Wilson said.

"Restaurants are an important part of a community's connectivity. Not the kind of connectivity we get with our phones, which is always going to be important, but face-to-face. People put their phones down and meet."

Wilson said his restaurants are conscious about engaging families and children in a way that gets the iPads out their hands for a while.

"We provide toys from earlier decades. A Rubik's cube has a child engaging with the world in a way that electronics don't."

Bisnow's Thomas Friend

Bellevue Arts Museum Executive Director Benedict Heywood said museums are evolving to be more actively engaged with their communities, and that is essential to the cultural growth of a place like Bellevue. 

"People don't want to be curated at, they want to participate in the art," he said.

In some cases, the design of the space facilitates that participation.

"Bellevue Arts Museum has forum space on its first floor, which provides ways to engage audiences. The potential for partnership between artists and audiences is right here as a place for debate and discussion, or to partner with restaurants or bars for events. Bellevue is so new, we can mix things up a bit."

Seattle Symphony President and CEO Simon Woods said arts organizations are shifting from being monolithic in nature to being much more complex.

"Each organization used to offer one kind of experience for one kind of audience," he said. "Now we're reaching out to a much more diverse audience with much more diverse programming. We invite them in, to be a part of what we do."

Woods said he does not believe that Tateuchi Center will siphon off its audience from venues in Seattle once it is complete.

"I've never subscribed [to] that idea at all. With a strong diversity of offerings, we can expand our audience. Once the Tateuchi Center opens, we will build an audience on the Eastside."