If you haven’t noticed already, the future for the Eastside (Bellevue in particular) is extremely promising. As Amazon and others shift their growth plans to Bellevue, the downtown core is gearing up for major growth. Despite the economic challenges the region is facing due to the pandemic, Bellevue is the epicenter of opportunity.

I was fortunate enough to listen in on an exclusive Puget Sound Business Journal virtual event called “The Future of Downtown Bellevue” where special guests and panelists dove into the various ways the city is preparing for the growth and how it plans to avoid some of the challenges Seattle has experienced during its recent growth spurt. See below for my key takeaways from the event:

Kemper Freeman Interview
Special Guest:

Kemper Freeman – Chairman & CEO, Kemper Development Co.

  • Bellevue is home to 2 of the 3 largest headquarters: Microsoft + Amazon
    • Both are booming in the office market
    • Amazon building the biggest office building ever in downtown Bellevue (3 offices side by side)
      • Over 25,000 jobs alone from Amazon are being created with the additional office space on the Eastside
    • Microsoft doubling headquarter campus – already had 53,000 employees and planning on doubling over the next few years
      • Because of COVID, they have created more office space for more jobs with more people working from home – accelerating 50,000 more jobs
    • T-Mobile: merged with Sprint creating better/more powerful technology
      • 38,000 employees for T-Mobile with at least 25,000 more coming to the Eastside
  • Downtown Bellevue office space will double in size in less than a year from 10 million square feet to 20 million square feet
  • Concerns for keeping up with the level of growth that quickly?
    • City of Bellevue, King County, Metro, Sound Transit have all never dealt with this to meet the demand
      • As COVID/flu settles down, traffic will get very bad
      • Nobody is ready for the transportation
      • Need to look more at transportation needs and pursuing that
      • Need to make sure we have housing on all income levels
  • Changes in trends on what people are looking for homes in Bellevue?
    • Looking for great restaurants/bar scene/shopping (i.e. Capitol Hill for the younger generation / social environment is key)
    • Great public and private schools
    • Land is more expensive, vertical is more expensive, there are artificial restrictions which is opposite for what we need for affordable land
  • Have not done enough to get people from north end or south end to be able to get to Bellevue quicker/cheaper
  • He thinks that all of this will create more local taxes which will make solving these issues easier 
Panel Discussion
Patrick Bannon – President, Bellevue Downtown Association
Majdi Daher – CEO & Founder, Denali
Joe Fain – President & CEO, Bellevue Chamber of Commerce

Mayor Lynne Robinson – City of Bellevue 

  • Impact of COVID on Bellevue
    • Transportation volumes decreased to 30% in spring of 2020
    • Returned to 70% normal volume in fall 2020
    • Working hard to support + advocate local businesses in Bellevue
    • Large employers having been supportive
    • Largest issue: lack of office community
    • Bellevue has a very functional and well-run government which has helped Bellevue to recover quicker than other communities in the country
    • Slowly rolling people back into offices – essential vs non-essential
      • Allowing employees to make the decision ultimately to provide a safe/healthy environment for businesses
      • Encouraging employers to not force the issue and engage with employees
  • How do you plan ahead for growth and gradual return of people?
    • Continue to have major developments but is an issue
      • May not have anticipated the growth from few major companies
      • Excited about growth and what is in the pipeline but definitely have to be making infrastructures in advance for the growth
        • Planning major transportation projects, housing for all incomes
        • Challenge: 10% of people who work in downtown Bellevue live in downtown Bellevue
          • Goal to change this number to 50% – by investing in all things that make Bellevue transportation more viable for people
            • Examples: covered sidewalks, urban corridors thru buildings to cover larger blocks, bike lanes
            • Create partnerships with larger employers to create better infrastructures for the growth Bellevue is experiencing
  • Biggest concerns on growth
    • 5G networks, high speed internet, sewer systems, water pipelines (we don’t look at these issues enough)
      • A lot of complexity and timelines in planning are very accelerated which is a problem – need to be more efficient for all of this demand
    • Traffic – younger workforce, amenities for the younger workforce
    • Leases – price points for smaller leases are getting very expensive
  • Zoning changes
    • Downtown Bellevue zoning has already occurred so looking at other areas – Wilburton, Factoria, Eastgate (outside areas)
  • Housing/schools strategy for Bellevue future
    • Important to look at generational decisions
    • Local decision making with the community from previous generations and what we see now to define what the quality of life looks like for future decisions in housing and school system
    • It will be interesting to look at how employers will see how employees will adapt to coming back and adapting to the office culture post COVID
  • How does Bellevue look at what has happened in Seattle and try to avoid/think more strategically from mistakes?
    • Differences in political issues but still need Seattle and to work off of each other (not a competition between both cities)
    • Similar hits in traffic trips for both
    • Coming back to life faster in Bellevue compared to Seattle
  • What’s the plan for permit volumes?
    • Looking into hiring more people to process permitting faster (a lot of online permitting implemented to speed up the process)
      • A lot of development occurring so need to speed up process
  • Future of office space
    • Focus on residential to have high quality/high speed internet
    • Office space: enable folks to work from home
    • Opportunity for companies to look at their office space to have these collaborative tools and have them be able to bring these tools home to be connective no matter where employees are (needs to be a thoughtful investment)
      • Belief that it will be in between working from home and in office balance
    • Companies will be need more space per capita moving forward – transform/evolve something better in work space than before but it will take time
  • Affordable spaces for small businesses
    • Affordability will continue to be an issue in retail spaces
      • Working on retail standards that will open opportunities for these small business, continue on retail recruitment (understand what the community wants to create a culture/community that will be a magnet)
    • Downtown Bellevue is $6.50/sf more expensive compared to downtown Seattle
      • COVID may have helped many businesses looking for spaces before now possible where if COVID didn’t happen, it wouldn’t be as possible
  • Homeless issue
    • Work regionally with local partners to address this population
      • Most important goal: getting children from this population into stable housing – using funding from State 1590
    • Just announced: Amazon will be preserving multi-family housing for low income families
    • Making the spectrum for affordability in Bellevue higher
    • Partnering with organizations and large employers to fund the housing for low income families
    • Mens homeless shelter in process to be done in 3 years – need to continue to create shelters for this population + future generations
    • Need to build more affordable housing for our healthcare/teachers/lower income employees
      • Plan to double population by 2040
Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or would like more details about any of the information above.