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Mayor says vision forming for Bellevue | Balducci, Deputy Mayor Kevin Wallace deliver State of the City
Bellevue has undergone multiple spurts of growth and change over the years, and Mayor Claudia Balducci says the city will work diligently this year to further facilitate its growing success as a community and economic hub of the Eastside.
Balducci and Deputy Mayor Kevin Wallace took turns revealing the working vision the City Council has come up with to guide Bellevue's future during the State of the City address Tuesday at the Bellevue Downtown Association breakfast, as well as highlighting the city's 2013 successes.
"We are united to move forward with a vision for the city," said Balducci.
This will be a year for parks and recreation, with a new Bellevue Youth Theatre under construction at Crossroads Park and the opening of a new visitors center to complement the Bellevue Botanical Garden in June, said Balducci. The city also is saving funds through a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Bellevue to construct a new gym at Hidden alley Park, expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Transportation remains at the top of priorities for the city to reduce projected increases in population, jobs and the congestion that will come with it. Projects to extend Northeast Fourth Street, as well as extending and widening 120th Avenue Northeast remain integral to moving people out of downtown and into the emerging Bel-Red corridor, Balducci said.
Wallace said he's proud of how the city handled the recession, moving to an outcome-based budgeting process that allowed projects to keep getting done while keeping tax rates at 2008 levels. That kept the city's insurance ratings high enough to take on debt at 2.7 percent over 20 years to keep working on transportation projects, said Wallace. Unemployment also dropped to 4 percent in 2013, down from 8 percent in 2009.
He said this year will be an interesting for development in downtown Bellevue, with projects like Bellevue at Main, Soma Towers Phase 1 and the Marriott Bellevue Hotel under construction and the highly anticipated $1.2 billion expansion of Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square 2 on the way. Hotels will increase by 1,100 units and 3.5 million square feet of office space is expected to be gained once a number of projects are completed.
"These are projects unlike anything we've seen in downtown Bellevue and they're all right there, ready and about to deliver," Wallace said.
The city is also planning on $1.5 billion in construction activity over the next eight years to bring in Sound Transit's East Link Extension of light rail service. Wallace said he's happy with the alignment that came out of a lengthy discussion with Sound Transit.
Wallace urged those attending the Bellevue Downtown Association breakfast on Tuesday to keep pushing the Washington Legislature to pass a state transportation package he said will be critical to improving conditions on I-405 and alleviating concerns about congestion now and in the future.
Balducci said the city expects to finish work on its Downtown Livability Initiative this year. It includes land use code changes, design guidelines and light rail integration measures meant to continue attracting residents to the downtown corridor, which is already a growing number. This also includes projects meant to enhance the downtown experience, including finishing the circle at Downtown Park and the Meydenbauer Bay Park project.
"We really need a major waterfront feature for the people," she said, stating the council wants planning complete and construction to start by 2018.
The city is also working with the Performing Arts Center Eastside to draft a memorandum of understanding moving forward with a study and public outreach to determine how a public-private partnership to complete the Tateuchi Center could work, said Balducci.
She said the city is also updating its diversity initiative after more than 10 years to address the large amount of change in Bellevue, not just in terms of the needs that come with it, but how to capitalize on the advantages it brings.
"Diversity brings opportunity. It brings economic development, education, a focus on public safety; things we can work together on to make the city a better and more rich place," Balducci said.