With nearly 160 projects completed or in the works in Bellevue, our team is well suited to share this “Bellevue 101” course and their perspectives on Western Washington’s latest up-and-comer. It’s a city on the verge, and with a new mass transit line, a vision for the Grand Connection, the transformation of large industrial lots, and emphasis on the employee and resident experience, it’s an exciting place to be and build.
Bellevue At A Glance
Growth and The Grand Connection
Bellevue’s growth is guided by the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a 20-year vision for the future of the community. The Comprehensive Plan shapes actions and decisions, providing policy direction on everything from the city’s growth strategy and environmental protection to provision of utilities, parks, and other services.
The Comprehensive Plan serves as the framework for future growth. It identifies long-range goals and helps the city council and commissions make thoughtful decisions around housing, land use, transportation, utilities, parks, economic development, and more. It’s a bit of a master class in master planning. Bellevue’s plan is well organized. The community has access to everything they need to be an informed stakeholder: checkpoints and timelines, the plan itself, corresponding resources, and opportunities to contribute. And they’re invited to add their voice to the plan and future of the city.
The draft plan will go through the formal adoption process with hearings with the Planning Commission and City Council next winter.
This commitment and vision have a ripple effect, affecting the details of our designs. When getting familiar with the Comprehensive Plan, and collaborating with Bellevue’s officials, it’s abundantly clear that creating a positive resident experience is a top priority. The Grand Connection, a pedestrian-focused walk and bikeway through the heart of downtown Bellevue, is no exception. More than 1.5 miles long, the Grand Connection begins at the edge of Lake Washington (at Meydenbauer Bay Park), and winds through Old Bellevue and Downtown Park. It continues through Bellevue’s retail and civic-focused parts of downtown, across Interstate 405 and finally connects with the regional Eastrail trail in the Wilburton commercial area. In June 2021, the city adopted a land use code amendment with guidelines and standards to improve livability, access and pedestrian experience along the route.
Our Team’s Take
With extensive experience in Bellevue and beyond, our team understands the Eastside. Select team members break down what’s happening in Bellevue, within their market of focus.
Structural Associate Principal Matt Snook talks Bellevue’s big picture, Civil Associate Principal Aaron Fjelstad takes us street level with a civil perspective, Structural Associate Eric Dixon breaks down the residential market, Structural Project Manager Christen Sanders shares school insights from our work with the Bellevue School District, and Structural Associate Marie Ternes shares office and work environment insights.
Bellevue’s Big Picture
Matt Snook, P.E., S.E. Structural Associate Principal
We started on the ground floor with Bellevue. We’ve been working there since Coughlin Porter Lundeen opened almost 30 years ago. It’s exciting to be a part of the city’s continued growth. Today, it’s attracting the best talent and professionals who are putting really smart plans against the Comp Plan and Grand Connection goals. Owners and developers are seeing value “across the lake,” and there’s an influx of ideas, energy, and new partners. It makes a difference too that the jurisdiction is favorable and collaborative. Overall, it’s an exciting place to be.
One of the most unique aspects of building in Bellevue are the supersized sites. The lots are huge, the designs are ambitious, and both warrant large, impressive projects. This scale, and the opportunities it affords, are exciting to us as project teams.
The large footprints allow teams to stretch, to get creative. Projects in Bellevue feature cantilevers, exposed elements, and strong architecture. They’re cool! And with Bellevue’s trademark focus on the pedestrian experience, they’re full of great public amenities, unique greenscapes, and an abundance of foot-traffic-friendly areas.
Of course, this scale comes with its own suite of challenges. Underground garages are akin to icebergs, sitting massively beneath their structures. Creating proper phasing for programs of this size is a project in its own right. And on the civil side, teams are tasked with weaving roads, walking paths, and connections into huge blank slates, transforming large industrial sites into pleasant places for commuters and residents.
Key Project: West Main
When you’re talking about Bellevue, Amazon is almost guaranteed to become part of the conversation. Originally poised to lease all of West Main’s three towers, the company’s announcement in July, stating they’re opting to lease only one, was unexpected. Amazon cited the need to evaluate how hybrid work will impact future space needs, a reality most companies face in the post-COVID-19 world. The buildings were designed with flexibility in mind, and will be able to adapt to current and future market needs.
The shell and core of this substantial build is almost complete, and positioned in the heart of Bellevue’s Central Business District, is set beside the transit center. It serves as a fantastic example of how Class A office requirements are evolving.
West Main required extensive phase planning and construction sequencing to maintain project budget and schedule. The team completed complex permit phasing, including phased ADR reviews, clear and grade and UDEA permits, and early utility relocation packages.
Rendering Credit: Altoura for Vulcan Real Estate
Civil in Bellevue
Aaron Fjelstad, P.E., LEED AP® Civil Associate Principal
Bellevue is striving to build with intention and strategy, prioritizing the pedestrian experience. As such, you’ll find a lot of specific design standards in the area. For example, both Lincoln Square and Bellevue Square adhere to special design standards which include wider sidewalks, breakout spaces, benches, lighting standards – making the entire area more pedestrian and bike friendly.
Our team is doing the lion’s share of work in BelRed and along the 405 corridor. This extensive experience gives us a great understanding of the nuances of the jurisdiction.
If you’re familiar with Coughlin Porter Lundeen, then you know we preach early involvement. It’s almost a mantra. Do the due diligence. Get answers to the tough questions. Communicate early and often. Avoid the setbacks and scramble that surprises bring. Nowhere is that more applicable right now than Bellevue. In a jurisdiction where code is evolving and negotiation is commonplace, the first few months of a project’s lifecycle make all the difference.
Bellevue can be challenging. While building code in most jurisdictions is black and white, the code in this area is evolving. This means things are not always cut and dry or clearly quantified. And a lot more negotiation is required, which means the first two and three months of city engagement is incredibly important. There’s an upside to the way Bellevue does things though! Designs get a lot of feedback from review teams, and as a whole, the jurisdiction is so open and approachable. There’s a clear process for speaking with decision makers, and a suite of pre-development services.
Transforming Bellevue continues to be a gratifying challenge. It’s rewarding to see the many large industrial sites (which hold their own set of implications, especially civil ones) become woven with new pedestrian connections and traffic patterns, and becoming beautiful, inviting communities.
Vulcan’s expansion into Bellevue continues with a 42-story office tower with seven levels below grade parking, plus an adjacent single-story retail pavilion. Standing 600 feet tall, the tower will be 150 feet taller than any existing building in Bellevue!
Its cascading glass curtain wall evokes a familiar PNW waterfall theme, with runoff terminating in cleverly located bioretention planters on the vibrant plaza.
Site improvements include public outdoor plaza space, thru-block pedestrian connections, and construction of a 30-foot-wide sidewalk expansion that will tie into the Grand Connection pedestrian corridor.
Our team collaborated closely with multiple agencies about future incorporation of exceptional intersections at 108th and 110th that will safely assimilate transit center traffic into an increasingly popular pedestrian environment, including a dedicated bike lane on 108th.
Rendering Credit: Vulcan Real Estate & NBBJ
Eric Dixon, P.E., S.E., Structural Associate
Where Sound Transit goes, development follows. So an important puzzle piece of Bellevue’s growth is, of course, the Sound Transit expansion. When East Link opens, passengers will be able to ride from the Eastside to downtown Seattle and Northgate, as well as to Sea-Tac Airport and Angle Lake. In Bellevue, industrial lots along the line are being transformed into vibrant, activated spaces, designed to entice new residents and become inviting places for people to live and work.
The six East Link stations as well as the downtown tunnel in Bellevue, constructed in separate segments, are substantially complete. We may have to wait a bit longer than expected for that first ride though. According to Sound Transit, “While the East Link Extension was planned to open in mid-2023, construction challenges are currently projected to delay completion by at least a year.” Currently, Sound Transit continues to evaluate controls, safety and signal systems along East Link.
Developers need “fresh dirt” to relieve the central core, and the most strategic way to find this new ground is to follow the transit line. This pattern of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) was evident in Seattle, Northgate and Shoreline. Residential units popped up along the Link light rail, then filled up.
Where Bellevue breaks from the template is the type of residences designed. In most cases, urban developments feature compact units, understanding that residents will spend most of their time working, eating and exploring the surrounding city. But in Bellevue, residential developments reflect the changing work/life balance landscape. Units are specifically designed to support work-from-home lifestyles, and amenities are enhanced, as residents are expected to spend more time at home.
Though the realities of construction costs, interest rates, and other challenges have hurt the general momentum, and the sheer number of projects (initiated by owners and developers who were attracted to Bellevue’s business-friendly policies) have caused somewhat of a permit backlog, we feel confident that if the market can get over some of these hurdles, Bellevue will continue to surge.
Key Project: Stellar BelRed
This BelRed community with 184 residential units is a prime example of TOD, located a short walk from the East Link station. Interestingly, and showing the importance of hybrid design, the team is exploring how each unit and the building as a whole can better accommodate work from home.
Demonstrating an understanding of work/life balance and time spent at home, the team focused on amenity spaces. These include a memorable entry and courtyard, and a roof deck that exceeds quality standards we’ve seen on past residential builds. The ground floor and retail are also carefully pedestrian-scaled and detailed to support the comprehensive plan for 130th Avenue NE as the shopping ‘main’ street for Bel Red, completing the community aspect of this balance.
Stellar BelRed will pursue LEED Certification.
Rendering Credit: Stellar Holdings & Runberg Architecture Group
Marie Ternes, P.E., S.E. Structural Associate
This July, we attended the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Northwest: 2022 Cascadia Regional Conference where we heard Patrick Bannon, President of Bellevue Business Association, speak about the “Bellevue Growth Trajectory.” He gave interesting insights about the city, but especially into the office-to-residential ratio, a ratio that is extremely high in Bellevue and points to Bellevue as a city for commuting. This ratio and the office jobs per capita are important when considering how Bellevue and the Eastside will accommodate commuters, understanding why the East Link is so critical, and contextualizing office builds in the area.
The office builds in Bellevue are no run-of-the-mill office complexes. They’re innovative and complicated, designed to support large numbers of employees and often, attract the region’s top tech clients.
The visions for these lean toward creating an office environment versus an office space. While offices are outfitted with modern touches, employee wellness features, and unique amenities, it’s the sustainability aspects that are standouts to us. While sustainability is a priority to most builds in the Puget Sound area, it’s a true differentiator in Bellevue. Here, resiliency and sustainability are true priorities. Eco-charrettes involve large, invested teams. Materials, construction practices, and design decisions are checked against strict sustainability goals. And standout elements – bridges, gathering spaces that feel like gardens, unique rainwater harvesting systems – are purposeful and give projects personality.
Key Project: KANON
Yes, KANON is technically Class A office, with all the bells and whistles that a modern office environment demands, but its conformity stops there. The design team, led by Gensler, envision this 740,000-square-foot, two-tower, 16-story office development as a showcase of sustainability and invention.
Through extensive research into drivers which will entice employees back into the office, the project emphasizes user experience and biophilia, our human instinct to connect with nature. The KANON team is striving to create an office environment which amplifies both. Standout features include a large, inviting public plaza, sweeping podium cantilevers, and a terrace at every level. The terraces, some of which double in depth by extending beyond the tower footprint, particularly support this concept. The design team has aptly named them “super floors” and they’re an exciting design feature which promotes the notion of a third place.
Sustainability is a true pillar of the design team’s strategy and was established as a priority from the project onset. An early eco-charette brought the entire team together to brainstorm sustainable development goals. KANON is targeting Salmon-Safe and LEED Platinum certifications. Further contributing to the sustainable vision, our team is tracking carbon against all major design decisions. In addition to reporting factors like constructability, cost, and user experience, we include a carbon impact analysis when evaluating structural options, using Tally.
KANON features numerous exciting structural elements including expressive braced frames, leaning columns, and vierendeel truss cantilevers at the podium. The team believes that the innovative and sustainable approaches, paired with the breathtaking and functional structural design, will greatly contribute towards a unique commercial office development in downtown Bellevue.
Rendering Credit: Beam Reach Partners & Gensler
Christen Sanders, P.E., Structural Project Manager
Bellevue School District has a truly special approach to learning and teaching. They’re at the forefront of diversifying learning and offering creative opportunities and experiences. It’s been a privilege to partner with them for the past 26 years.
Our support of the district goes beyond decades of project partnership. This year, we welcome a high school junior from Big Picture School to our offices as an intern! He’ll be working at the office one day a week as a part of Big Picture Learning design. The curriculum requires that students complete an internship each semester. We wholeheartedly believe in giving students access to work environments and real world experience, and are happy to support Big Picture School.
Key Project: Newport High School Modernization
A three-year, multi-phase project, the Newport High School substantial modernization will add a new gym/athletic space, new CTE labs, music rooms, drama spaces, robotics lab, general purpose classrooms, and additional food service. It will also significantly expand and improve the school’s commons space.
The school remains occupied during construction, which is moving right along! Earlier this month the project saw a milestone as the huge (110-foot-long, 11-foot-deep, 30,000 lbs.) girder truss was set!
Rendering Credit: NAC
We’re honored to have a seat at the table, to help shape developing Bellevue. The city boasts magnificent builds, innovative design, and exciting growth. We’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds, and are happy to be along for the ride.