Bellevue’s growth surge shows no signs of stopping

by Seattle Times | January 1, 2017 | Seattle Times

ONE of the remarkable stories of 2016 was the continued growth of downtown Bellevue.

While Seattle’s Amazon-fueled construction boom drew most of the attention, Bellevue experienced it’s own surge of new office and apartment buildings.

This pattern, and Bellevue’s capacity to accommodate more of the region’s new jobs and residents, is an important consideration as growth policies evolve.

Bellevue is addressing this in part by updating plans for the downtown, Bel-Red and Wilburton areas.

City Council member Kevin Wallace, a developer, notes that those areas combined have roughly the same acreage as Seattle’s central core, from CenturyLink Field to South Lake Union and Elliott Bay to Broadway on Capitol Hill.

Simultaneously, the Puget Sound Regional Council is updating plans for regional centers where growth will be concentrated through 2040.

Room to expand in Bellevue and other urban centers around Puget Sound should also be part of Seattle discussions about how much more growth to shoehorn into areas that are at capacity.

Bellevue’s surge in 2016 shows, though, that it can be tricky to foresee growth.

At the start of the year, some predicted a glut of office space in Bellevue. The combination of new buildings under construction and big companies moving out suggested a rough patch ahead.

It turned out there was actually significant demand, particularly among tech companies, for more space in Bellevue’s increasingly dynamic downtown.

Yes, one of Bellevue’s largest employers, Expedia, is moving to Seattle in a few years, relocating thousands of jobs. Microsoft, which occupies about a fifth of downtown Bellevue office space, may eventually relocate more workers to its Redmond campus.

But in the meantime, other companies are expanding from Seattle to the Eastside or expanding their Eastside presence.

During the third quarter, 1.1 million square feet of office space was under construction in Bellevue, comparable to the 1.3 million feet under construction in Seattle’s South Lake Union area, according to real-estate company Jones Lang LaSalle. Overall, 1.6 million feet was under construction on the Eastside and 4.8 million feet in Seattle.

Tech companies are claiming most of the space.

Bellevue gaming giant Valve is nearly doubling its downtown presence, leasing nearly a third of the new Lincoln Square office tower.

Another new Bellevue office building was entirely leased by Amazon.com. It took space Apple was rumored to be considering. The 16-story Centre 425 building gives Amazon flexibility similar to Google, which has long had campuses on both sides of Lake Washington.

Companies used to be interested in just one side of the lake or the other, according to Bret Jordan, managing director at Colliers in Bellevue. Now, the commercial real-estate company markets both sides at once.

That regional view is a good one for both policymakers and residents to take as they plan and prepare for future growth.

 

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