Developer will answer Issaquah Highlands residents’ questions about growth

January 26, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 5:15 p.m. Jan. 26, 2010

Port Blakely Communities executives will re-engage Issaquah Highlands residents in the days ahead, as the developer works to answer questions about the community’s future.

The outreach follows a busy year for the highlands developer, when officials broke ground on large-scale projects in the community, and residents grumbled about the highlands’ retail offerings.

Judd Kirk — a Port Blakely senior vice president, the chief real estate strategist and a key player in establishing the vision for the highlands — spearheaded the outreach effort.

Kirk and René Ancinas, the president and chief operating officer of parent company Port Blakely Companies, assumed responsibilities for the highlands after former Port Blakely President Alan Boeker resigned Jan. 15.

Kirk will outline a development strategy for the highlands in meetings Wednesday and Feb. 3. The initial meeting will be limited to highlands community leaders, but the Feb. 3 town hall meeting will open to the public. The town hall meeting will be 6-7:30 p.m. at Blakely Hall, 2550 N.E. Park Drive.

Kirk will detail the long-running efforts to attract a grocery store and other retailers to the community, and answer residents’ questions about future development.

The recession sidelined a planned Regal movie theater. Initial plans called for the theater to open in May 2011; the soonest crews will break ground for the theater will be in the fall.

Port Blakely and city officials also drafted a revision to the development agreement between the developer and the city to add a gas station to the highlands. The gas station will be on the docket when Kirk meets with residents next week.

The developer aims to develop the periphery — the areas along the margins of Highlands Drive Northeast and Ninth Avenue Northeast — in order to encourage further development on the blocks within.

Kirk cited 240 planned residences — including apartments, townhouses and stacked flats — and a proposed gas station at the southern entrance to the highlands, at the fork in Highlands Drive Northeast, as examples of the periphery strategy.

Supporters envision the gas station as a cutting-edge “energy station” with alternative fuels and electric-vehicle charging stations.

The linchpin for future development, however, is the long-promised grocery store. Kirk said talks continue between Port Blakely and a grocery chain.

The developer and city officials remained tight-lipped as negotiations with the latest grocer unfolded. Kirk said certain details must be kept confidential in order not to put Port Blakely at a competitive disadvantage.

“We try not to go public with names of tenants, or be too optimistic about dates, because until they start building the building, it’s not 100 percent; there’s always things that can happen,” Kirk said. “We have to balance that with our desire for transparency for the residents.”

Port Blakely initially pursued specialty grocers after early focus groups with highlands residents indicated a preference for a high-end store.

The developer talked with representatives from Whole Foods, Central Market and the now-defunct Larry’s Market years ago, but a deal failed to materialize.

Kirk noted changes to QFC, Safeway and other mid-range chains, like more high-end food and wine offerings. Industry trends also influenced smaller grocery stores. The changes could make the other grocers a better fit for the highlands, he added.

The layout and plan for the highlands would differ if Microsoft had completed a sprawling complex in the community, Kirk said.

Microsoft pulled the plug on a proposed 150-acre campus in the highlands in 2004. After the software giant scaled back plans for the Issaquah complex, the land became available for other uses, like the Swedish Medical Center campus under construction. Dignitaries broke ground on the hospital last October.

Port Blakely banked on the Microsoft campus as the economic engine for the community, and the developer suffered a blow when the tech company changed course and added office space in Redmond instead.

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