The future of Bellevue development is Bel-Red corridor

An architectural model of the Spring District, a 36-acre neighborhood proposed for the Bel-Red corridor. - Courtesy photo
An architectural model of the Spring District, a 36-acre neighborhood proposed for the Bel-Red corridor.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Bellevue’s downtown skyline has filled out in recent years like a gangly teenager downing protein shakes. But the focus of development is about to shift east, just across I-405.

The future of Bellevue development is along the Bel-Red corridor. New land-use guidelines are in place to reshape the area into a more urban landscape by replacing existing industrial facilities with multi-use mid-rises as light rail moves in.

Upcoming roads projects will also pave the way for growth, with work already beginning on a bridge that crosses I-405 at 10th Street, and the city making plans to extend Northeast 16th Street westward toward Overlake Hospital. Also in the works is a new Highway 520 interchange along 124th.

All this land-use and transportation planning has swung open some doors for developers.

The first project likely to take off in the Bel-Red area is the Spring District, a 36-acre mixed-use neighborhood that would replace the existing Safeway distribution center and Sound Transit base along 124th Avenue Northeast.

Wright Runstad – creator of Bellevue's City Center buildings and several marquee developments in Seattle – intends to fill the area with 3 million square feet of office space and 1,000 multi-family homes, all mid-rise buildings.

"Think of downtown Kirkland and the scale of buildings in Pioneer Square," said Wright Runstad President Greg Johnson.

Developments in the Spring District will be phased in as Sound Transit begins laying tracks for East Link. Light-rail stations will likely be built at 124th Avenue Northeast and 130th Avenue Northeast.

Johnson calls all the collaborative Bel-Red planning between local and regional jurisdictions "refreshingly forward-looking."

"This is how you would hope it would be done everywhere," he said.

The only thing missing is demand. Commercial and residential vacancy rates are on the rise, which makes builders skittish about starting new projects.

Many of the newest developments in Bellevue – City Center Plaza, Lincoln Square, and The Bravern – dodged a bullet when Microsoft signed leases with them.

But not everyone has been so lucky. Bellevue Towers sits virtually empty after opening in February. Only 47 out of its 539 residential units had closed by the end of July, and the developer slashed prices by up to 20 percent. There have since been 300 visitors and 15 new offers.

With the market saturated, many developers are postponing projects. The 15-story Summit III building near 108th Avenue Northeast and Northeast Fourth Street, for example, is on hold, and Kemper Development has tabled plans for expanding Lincoln Square and Bellevue Square with new towers that would include offices, condos, and hotels.

This doesn't bode well for the Bel-Red area at the moment, but city planners are calling the economic downturn a temporary setback.

"It's just a time out," said Bellevue Planning and Community Development Director Matt Terry. "The recession hasn't caused us to re-think the vision at all."

Johnson said Wright Runstad isn't likely to break ground on the Spring District until 2012 at the earliest, assuming the economy picks up within the next few years.

For now, the only thing under construction is an architectural model.

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