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Lake Hills Shopping Center moving ahead to 2nd phase
After more than a decade of community outreach, planning and demolition, the Lake Hills Shopping Center entered phase two of development earlier this year. Once done, it will bring new retail, office and residential space to the neighborhood. A 10,000-square-foot library already anchors one corner of the property.
“This is one of those rare and unique projects where the community, the city and the developer all came together with a clear vision of what they want to do and build,” said Oscar Del Moro of Cosmos Development and Administration, which purchased the property in 1998.
In 2000 the city approached Cosmos Development about redeveloping the shopping center. A vision was announced in 2003 and by 2006 plans had been solidified. The redevelopment was initially part of a citywide push to revamp neighborhood shopping centers. Bellevue contributed half of a $20,000 study of options, early in the process.
Typically anchored by large grocers, neighborhood commercial hubs found themselves competing with bigger malls and retail behemoths like Costco.
“There are six or seven of these centers in the Bellevue area that over time have fallen into disrepair,” Del Moro said. “There are a lot more places to go, and so what the city wanted to do is to partner with the community, to find a way to revitalize the neighborhood centers and to address local needs.”
But the recession tempered construction and the existing zoning of commercial business, added restrictions such as height limits and setback regulations. Del Moro said he hopes the final product will be something of an urban-commercial village. Rather than emphasizing parking spaces in a sea of asphalt, he wants to focus on buildings and the pedestrian experience, a model he says is totally different from the ’50s and ’60s.
“At one point we did consider moving back,” says Siobhan Donohue, who co-owns the Liebchen Delicatessen, formerly located in Lake Hills, with her mother Maria. “But it's just not an option.”
Having done business in Lake Hills for more than 40 years, the pair were informed in mid-December they had until January 15 to relocate, less time than they had originally expected. CrossFit would be the only business to stay.
“It was really scary to leave the neighborhood I grew up in, the neighborhood where we knew everybody,” said Donohue. “I had a notebook and I sent over 500 postcards to neighbors, letting them know we were moving.”
Liebchen Deli is now located in the Overlake area, joined by it's old neighbor Neda Persian grocery, also of Lake Hills and now called Oskoo Market.
"They're all welcome to return," said Del Moro. "We've tried to keep some, but it's hard to do when you have a dark period of some time. We're hopeful others will take their place, or they may come back and see the benefit of being here."
The cornerstone of the project – a branch of the King County Library – opened in September of 2010, a few blocks east of its old location. The construction of office space fronting 156th also has finished and phase two marks the start of underground parking, upper level retail, residential space, landscaping and a European-style square at its center. When done, the center will encompass 69,200 square feet of retail space, 44,800 square feet of office and 90 residential units, though that much is still several years out.
“Most developers want to build and be done,” explained Del Moro. “Our vision is always the longer-term, for quality improvement.”
He expects parking to wrap at the end of the year, and residential space to become available in June of 2014.
"The thing to remember about this project is that we're where we're at because we developed it alongside the council, the city, the residents," said Steve Kasner of the East Bellevue Community Council, "and we kept going until we found [a plan] we can all live with."
For Kasner, the emerging footprint already makes the center a focal point of the neighborhood. He suggests driving by the now open library at night, when the windows are illuminated. "It's beautiful," he remarks.
“We see things lining up now,” says Del Moro, “and we're pushing ahead on this next phase, aggressively. It's a good time to build, to secure future tenants. We've overcome tough economic times. There's a lot of clean-up still, but I think we're on the mend.”