It was a bumpy economic road a few years ago — a survival of the fittest for business owners — said Maria Royer of Real Retail, noting that the monetary landscape has since improved.
Bob Wallace of Wallace Properties added that interest rates are presently cheaper than he’s seen in his 30-plus years in the business. Money is available, equity is begging for some yield, but people are still reticent to build and invest in places like the 9.6-acre Kenmore Village property at 68th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 181st Street.
Kenmore officials brought together Royer, Wallace and other professionals to sit on a panel in front of city council and community members on July 10 to discuss what the city should do with the remaining parcels of the property. (Another meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on July 24 at City Hall, 18120 68th Ave. N.E.)
On the heels of Kenmore Camera recently agreeing to purchase a 1.24-acre piece of property — which includes a 17,000-square-foot building formerly occupied by Grocery Outlet — for $1,250,000, City Manager Robert Karlinsey said that over the next few months, the city will focus on a plan to sell the remaining properties.
Karlinsey said the city is in a good position to move forward in developing its four quadrants of Kenmore Village.
“Despite what’s gone on with the economy, we have a relatively clean slate. This property is non encumbered with debt. The city owns this free and clear, and not all cities that have tried to do similar developments can say that,” he told the crowd at the outdoor meeting, which took place at the village and was preceded by a barbecue.
Karlinsey said that the city wants to bring life and new investment into downtown, create vibrant public spaces, help existing businesses thrive and expand, bring amenities to citizens and protect existing residential neighborhoods. High-quality development and more amenities available will attract more people to live around downtown, Karlinsey added, and that will also maintain and improve property values.
Royer, who grew up on Finn Hill and is familiar with the Kenmore area, continuously brought up a phrase that had many people repeating it throughout the meeting: “finding the there there” to attract people to the village.
“Something very small can be very highly impactful, so a great community brewpub. If you can imagine that opening onto a great, green park with outdoor seating,” she said. “Starting out with a really strong community leader, with Kenmore Camera, I think is great. And then you’ve got to sprinkle it in and have the balance of regional, local and national credit along with that.”
Added Wallace: “There needs to be something. You’ve got strip retail for miles along here and everything you could want in groceries and drugs and whatever. So what unique can you create here that’s going to pull people off the street and make the thing work? And it’s going to take something like a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s, one of the draws that will bring people from Bothell, Woodinville and Bellevue.”
Also on the panel, Joe Borin of Lorig project managers said that one of the challenges Kenmore faces is getting city officials and community members to demonstrate the tenacity and willingness to stick with this project — which could also feature multi-family living, senior housing and more — for the duration.
Councilmembers and about a dozen community members spoke at the meeting. Their suggestions for Kenmore Village attractions included a park, movie theater, restaurants, doctor’s offices and more.
Royer said the village doesn’t have enough gross leasable area (GLA) to house a movie theater, but the rest of the ideas are do-able.
Wes and Diana Case, owners of Teddy’s Bigger Burgers in Woodinville, were on hand, scouting the village as a place to possibly open a second location.
“I look at this location and I go, ‘What’s the pop going to be? What’s going to make people come here besides some spruced-up garden and that type of greenery?’” Wes asked.
Kenmore resident Bill Leak added that the meeting was: “Long overdue. I don’t say that negatively. We’re fortunate to find people from time to time, one being our new city manager and Rod (Stevens of Spinnaker Strategies) that moderated, brought some heavyweights to the party tonight to talk about their experiences. I think it’s insightful for people that don’t have that background to hear from some of the experts.”
It’s just the start, back to the drawing board for the village project, said Leak, a member of the city’s Economic Advisory Committee.
“We thought we had a plan and were moving forward in 2003-2004. And it got derailed as many other projects did for reasons that frustrated everybody, but the market’s changed and so we’ve got to start over,” he said.
• Kenmore’s total purchase price for 9.6 acres (four parcels) was $8,225,000:
On Feb. 12, 1999, the city purchased the current post office (former city hall location) 0.77-acre parcel for $500,000; on Sept. 2, 2003, the city purchased the two shopping-center parcels (4.11 acres) for $5,200,000; and on Dec. 1, 2004, the city purchased the former park-and-ride parcel (4.75 acres) for $2,525,000.
The city was engaged in a Disposition and Development Agreement with Urban Partners (later known as RECP/UP Kenmore, LP) for redevelopment of the Kenmore Village property from 2007 to March 2012, when the parties mutually agreed to end the agreement, partly due to the economic downturn.