Person Behind The Place:
A third-generation resident of Bellevue, Kemper Freeman has played an important role in Bellevue's growth from the early days of downtown to the economic force it is today. In all, he’s developed over 5.5 million square feet of real estate in Downtown Bellevue and owns and manages The Bellevue Collection, comprised of Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place, and Lincoln Square. While best known as a businessman, Freeman focuses 30% of his awake time not on his own buildings, but on community building.
We'll hear more from Kemper Freeman at our next Downtown Talks this Thursday, where you'll learn why retail was a catalyst for Bellevue's growth, and what's next for The Bellevue Collection. In anticipation of the premiere, here's an inside look at his career, side hobbies and where he enjoys spending time in Downtown Bellevue.
What are some of your early memories of Bellevue Square?
My earliest memories are watching the bulldozers, road raiders and the bright yellow machines work on the building. I remember they looked like Big Tonka toys. I had no idea what Bellevue Square was or would be, but I remember just thinking 'this is exciting' and suddenly there were buildings, and then there were shoppers and tenants. My grandfather had originally purchased the piece of property for $0.10 a square foot for 10 acres, which is the first property we had. It's gone from just a few simple ideas and turned into some of the biggest, best, most successful companies in the world.
What has served as the biggest motivation for your community life and how you spend your time?
I’ve learned a lot about my successes from spending 14 years working on Marymoor Farm when I was a kid. I don't think you can learn common sense any place faster than on a farm. I'll tell you, when you're on the farm, it's up to you to make it work and nobody is going to come and rescue you. You're going to have to figure out how to do it.
The Bellevue Collection sees millions of people each year, how are you able to continue bettering the experience for visitors?
One of the things we do every year is called tracking research, which means we have a professional team asking questions about visitors' experience: what they like, what they want to see in the future, etc. It focuses on what the customers want and from the results, we do our best to see what we can do to improve their overall experience here at The Bellevue Collection.
How important is community engagement and getting involved in the fabric of civic life?
It's important. My grandfather, my father and myself have done the same thing, and that is to portion 30% of awake time to spend on community engagement. We want to make Bellevue a better place to live, a better place to work and a better place to be with family. By doing that, it makes our businesses work better. Our community, by nature, feels the same way and wants to create a better place whether it’s bettering the parks around us or the individuals willing to spend time to make Bellevue a wonderful city.
What are your favorite places to shop?
Well, one of my hobbies is photography and we have an incredible camera store right here in The Bellevue Collection. Leica Camera, from Germany, resides in Bellevue Square. They just happen to coincide with the hobby I've had since I was less than 10 years old - I had a darkroom and everything. It's the best camera in the world.
What do you love to photograph the most?
I love anything that has to do with water. When I’m out boating near the San Juan Islands or if I’m near the Puget Sound, I always have my camera with me. My earliest memory was when I was 2 years old, and my family and I took our first ferry trip over to Orca Islands. I saw the white and green ferry boats come around the corner and we got to take a ride across the water. I still have my camera with me every time I’m in a boat, anywhere from here to Alaska.
Do you have a favorite place to dine out?
We’ve got 72 restaurants here, so I would be scared to death to say which is my favorite ... but I can't think of one I don't love. For years and years, we only had two restaurants and we thought we had all the restaurants we'd ever need. These dining areas are a huge part of making retail work. It makes living here work. It makes working here work. So, food and beverage was an important segment that we were way behind on. And now it's just amazing.
Any hidden gems you'd like to share?
Well, I think one place that is important to the whole community is the Bellevue Downtown Park. It's right next door to us and there's a number of things that go on there day-by-day. It’s so relaxing and quiet, I have a wonderful time there.
To hear more about the future of The Bellevue Collection and the secret behind their success, tune into our next Downtown Talks, premiering this Thursday at noon!
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Person Behind the Place is part of the Heart of Bellevue: our campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.
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The Bellevue Collection
575 Bellevue Square