Issaquah Highlands to get movie theater; grocery store next

August 25, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Theater giant Regal Entertainment Group will operate a long-planned movie theater in the Issaquah Highlands — and officials with highlands developer Port Blakely Communities said they hope the theater announcement is the first sign of a turnaround after a series of disappointing delays.

Port Blakely President Alan Boeker said Regal signed a lease for a proposed theater with 14 screens, stadium seating and digital projection and sound. Target opening date: May 2011.

Boeker said the Regal announcement would be followed in the next several weeks with a deal to bring a regional grocery store to the highlands. Boeker said a confidentiality agreement prevented him from releasing the name of the grocery chain.

Boeker said announcements from other retailers are on the horizon, too. He said Port Blakely turned down offers from big box retailers, because they did not fit the concept for The High Streets retail development.

“It takes time to build a community like this and we’re not sacrificing quality for speed,” he said.

Keith Niven, program manager for the city Major Development Review Team, said some of the necessary permits for construction of the theater and parking garage were ready, and others would be ready soon.

Construction on the theater is scheduled to begin next spring. Plans call for the 64,000-square-foot venue to be called Regal Cinemas Issaquah Highlands Stadium 14.

The theater will be accompanied by a three-story parking structure with spaces for 550 cars. Crews would also break ground on the grocery store in 2010; the store would open the following year.

The theater and retail offerings would be built as part of The High Streets development at Park Drive and High Street, and 10th Avenue and Highlands Drive.

Niven said the grocery store announcement could be a turning point for retail development in the highlands.

“Everybody we’re talking to wants to have land-use permits by the end of the year,” Niven said.

The High Streets will be a mix of national chains and regional and local retailers described by Port Blakely as a “mixed-use marketplace” spread out across the open-air shopping center.

Boeker said the trend in retail is “to include a nice variety of goods at a variety of price points.” He said The High Streets would be 60 percent to 70 percent national retailers with the remaining space occupied by regional and local businesses.

Efforts to bring additional retailers to the highlands have been slow moving and a deal to bring grocer Central Market to the highlands fell apart this spring. Boeker said Port Blakely remained committed to its vision for The High Streets and its tenants. Plus, he added, the slow materialization of retail offerings hurts the company’s business plan.

“No one’s more disappointed than the company,” he said.

Boeker said he expects commercial development to pick up “as soon as the retailers are healthier and consumer spending is higher.”

He pointed to bright spots throughout the highlands, including healthy numbers for home transactions and openings for restaurants.

Since mid-June, Zeeks Pizza and Mexican eatery Agave Cocina & Tequilas have moved into spaces occupied by defunct restaurants.

Meanwhile, City Council members will consider changing the development agreement between Port Blakely and the city to allow construction of a gas station in the highlands.

“We felt like there was political support to change the agreement to allow it,” Boeker said.

When the initial development agreement between the city and Port Blakely was drafted, officials worried about contaminants from a gas station seeping into the Lower Issaquah Valley Aquifer — a source of drinking water. Officials have said advances in technology and increased knowledge about the geology beneath the highlands have rendered those concerns moot.

Boeker has said the gas station would offer alternative fuels and match existing highlands architectural styles.

Port Blakely has also been buoyed by activity surrounding construction of a planned Swedish Medical Center hospital campus. Excavation work began last week on the hospital site at the southwestern corner of Highlands Drive Northeast and Ninth Avenue Northeast.

The first phase of the hospital project, which includes a medical office building and an outpatient center, is scheduled to open in summer 2011. A second phase — with 80 hospital beds — is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2012. The second phase will eventually expand to 175 beds.

Boeker said construction at the hospital site boosted business at nearby highlands restaurants. He recalled long lines of construction workers at the Subway restaurant when he stopped for lunch last week.

“People underestimate how much activity there is here today,” he said.

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