Freeman bullish on Bellevue

April 21st, 2010 by Ken

(The following article was written by Jan Teague, president and CEO of the Washington Retail Association.  It appeared in the association’s on-line newsletter the WIN.  It has been edited for content.)

Developer and shopping mall owner Kemper Freeman spoke this week at the Northwest Shopping Center Association’s luncheon in Bellevue. He spoke about the economy and encouraged the audience to keep a positive
outlook on how the economy was doing.

Freeman noted that on Bellevue’s East Side, the unemployment rate is 6 percent, just one percent above what is considered full employment. The area is doing very well, which he attributed to companies such as Microsoft and Boeing and because of emerging markets such as computer gaming companies. He estimated there are 50 such gaming companies in the area including Nintendo.

Bellevue Square, which Freeman owns, has more than 250 retailers and
in various weeks they are the highest selling outlets in the nation. He said
there is an incredible synergy that occurs with the attached shops, hotels and restaurants located within walking distance in downtown Bellevue. He noted that both the Hyatt and the Westin hotels were doing better than expected business and were full most of the time. Freeman explained that this walk-about factor is a key to economic development and explained that retail is a catalyst for economic growth.

Freeman’s father started Bellevue Square in the early 1960s by buying the property for 10 cents per square foot. By the 1970s it was worth $10 per square foot. In 1983, the Freemans rebuilt the site. The effect of all of their retailers agreeing to expand turned the area into a much bigger complex with property valued at $75 per square foot. The property these days is worth from $300-$500 per square foot, Freeman said.

“If there is one message that will affect your careers, it is this,” Freeman said. “Retail is the catalyst that creates excitement for all other forms of commercial real estate. Grow it and you choose to be more successful.”

Freeman cited many cities round the country where success relied on a mixed use of retail in the core of the city. He suggested to the group that it focus on the question of what opportunities are available for mixed uses of good retail.

In response to a question Freeman said Tacoma has a number of
incredible assets. And government has invested $160 million dollars into
the downtown area with plans to invest another $1 billion dollars.

Tacoma’s plans continue to lack a good mix of retail, however, Freeman said. He believes that the lack of retail continues to be the missing piece to draw other commercial activity into the  downtown core of Tacoma.

“I have seen the list of projects and the list still won’t work,” noted Freeman.

Posted in Business, Informational, The Real News

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