Friday was a big day for Kemper Freeman, the owner of Kemper Development Company which operates The Bellevue Collection. As a young boy he watched his father open Bellevue Square in 1946. About 70 years later, on a rare blue-sky morning and in front of about 100 builders, employees, and investors affiliated with his company, he watched the placement of the final beam of the Lincoln Square Expansion office tower.
When tower construction is completed at the end of this year, it will be the largest office building on the Eastside. Rising 31 stories and incorporating 710,000 square feet, it will perch over Bellevue Way and NW 4th Street overlooking Downtown Park.
The new office tower is part of a major, 1.5 million square foot expansion for The Bellevue Collection called The Lincoln Square Expansion. In addition to the office tower, construction is underway on a second tower that will incorporate 231 luxury apartment homes and a new W hotel, expected to open in spring 2017. Chef Jason Wilson will be opening a restaurant at the W Bellevue.
About 180,000-square-feet of retail space is also underway at the base of both towers that will include clothing stores, a movie theater, and 12 new restaurants including Henry’s Tavern, Fogo de Chão (a leading Brazilian steakhouse), and Japonessa (a Sushi Cocin). The retail portion of the project is expected to open in spring of 2017.
The new movie theater, Cinemark Reserve, will be owned by Cinemark, the same company that operates Lincoln Square Cinema. The theater will feature six wall-to-wall screens with luxury seats, a full restaurant, and reserved seating. Lincoln Square Cinema is one of Cinemark’s most popular theaters in the country.
The topping out ceremony of the tower was, in part, a special thanks to the many steelworkers and other employees who have been building downtown’s newest skyscraper. But it also was a celebration of Bellevue’s growth as a metropolitan center for the Eastside.
“It’s been fun for me to watch all the things that have happened to Bellevue in my lifetime,” said Freeman who is now 74-years-old. “More people per week walk across one of our sky bridges than live in Bellevue today.”
Freeman considers himself “blessed” to be building in a city where business is booming.
“Most places in America today are not having a great economy and this area is having the best economy it’s ever had,” he said.
Part of the city’s economic health is no doubt tied to the tech companies that have set up shop all over the Eastside. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was the building’s first signed tenant. His office will be on the top floor of office space. A restaurant will occupy the top floor of the building.
“We know that this is a great time for the city,” said Bellevue Mayor John Stokes. “This is not the city we were two years ago. It’s not the city we were 10 years ago. But it is still at it’s heart the city we were in 1950, when it was incorporated and when Kemper (Sr.) was starting his work. And now it’s this. Bellevue is in fact the urban center of the Eastside.”
A few minutes later, Freeman counted down to one, prompting the steel beam to rise 450 feet into the air to top off the new building. A symbolic gesture of Bellevue reaching new heights.