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Downtown Talks Recap: Major Projects & Trends Shaping Bellevue's Future

April 5, 2022 - by Sandy Vo

Downtown Talks Recap:
Major Projects & Trends Shaping Bellevue's Future

Last week the Bellevue Downtown Association (BDA) welcomed back many familiar faces to the first Downtown Talks breakfast at Bellevue Club. Being the first in-person event after nearly two years of virtual meetings, attendees were thrilled to network with other downtown supporters over a meal.

Things quieted down when BDA President Patrick Bannon introduced the first guest, Gary Guenther, shareholder and executive vice president for Kidder Mathews. Gary presented an update on Downtown's development pipeline, where nearly 16 million square feet of office space is in development.

Gary Guenther presenting at March Downtown

“Five years ago, people couldn’t even find Bellevue on a map,” Guenther said. “Now they’re clamoring to invest their money here and bring in cool retail and restaurants to ground level that will help activate and energize our downtown streets.”

Some of the constructed buildings include the 42-story 555 Tower and Meta's Spring District development. It’s clear from the numbers that companies like Meta and Amazon aren’t cutting back on office space. According to Guenther, hybrid work is here to stay.

“It’s a big message to these developers and employers that you really have to make these spaces and buildings more engaging, productive and worthwhile for the employees to get in their car and commute back to the office,” Guenther said.

Kate Joncas, director of urban strategy and development for MIG, followed Guenther's presentation with insights on national downtown trends and challenges. She focused on four areas that the pandemic has majorly disrupted: office and jobs, retail and shopping, arts and culture, and mobility.

“The pandemic changed many things, and the most visible impact has been how technology accelerated that change through the pandemic,” Joncas said. “We don’t even realize it now because it’s become normalized.”

Some of the areas, such as arts and retail, increased their online presence during the pandemic. According to Joncas, this doesn’t mean brick-and-mortars are dead or performing arts are going away. She believes the return of those activities will be based on the quality of experience and quality of space they offer. She suggested that activating streets with pop-ups, art and new experiences will increase foot traffic.

Kate Joncas presenting at Downtown Talks

“You’ve got to have street-level activities for vibrancy, or you don’t have anything to go forward with,” Joncas said. “We really have to have mixed-use if we’re going to be successful.”

The same goes for offices. Joncas reiterated Guenther’s point about hybrid work – it will stay that way. She predicts that offices will change from sitting in a little cube to a more highly collaborative space.

“The office will be a place for meeting and brainstorming. It will be a place for culture, connection, and going out to have lunch with your team members,” Joncas said.

Mobility is also essential to connect all parts of a downtown.

"If we can watch entertainment, shop, and work from home, how do we get people to travel downtown?" Joncas asked. She suggested that placemaking, focused on the pedestrian experience, and activating public spaces is the best strategy forward.

“It’s about the excitement, the beauty, the experience we can have in a downtown area,” Joncas said. “We need to think about using our space differently. That’s the direction we need to go.”

At the end of the presentation, Joncas reminded attendees to "never underestimate your ability to create change and make Downtown Bellevue the place you want to be."

“Every day is your chance to make this city a little better," she said.

Thank you to our partners Amazon, Heritage Bank, Kaiser Permanente, Puget Sound Energy and Vulcan Real Estate for making Downtown Talks possible. 

The next BDA Downtown Talks will be in May! Sign up to receive details on future dates and program details.