Port Blakely executives promise better communication with highlands residents
February 3, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 10:55 p.m. Feb. 3, 2010
Port Blakely Communities pledged to communicate better and more often with Issaquah Highlands residents, after company executives acknowledged a slump in contact between the highlands developer and the community.
The company hosted a meeting Thursday, where neighborhood residents quizzed executives about still-unrealized plans to bring more retail options to the hillside community.
“It’s frustrating to see it the way it is now because it appears to be stalled,” René Ancinas, the president and chief operating officer of parent company Port Blakely Companies, said during the two-hour meeting. “We have some news to report, and we have some updates, but the bottom line is: In the current economy, with everything going the way it’s going, everybody has suffered.”
Judd Kirk — a Port Blakely senior vice president, the chief real estate strategist and a key player in establishing the vision for the highlands — said the company lost close contact with homeowners as the highlands ballooned from a few hundred residents in the late 1990s to more than 7,000 today.
Despite sharp words from residents in the weeks leading up to the meeting, participants kept the tone cordial at Blakely Hall. About 120 people filled the meeting space.
Residents asked for more frequent updates about efforts by Port Blakely to attract businesses to the highlands. The company plans to engage residents through social media Web sites, like Facebook and Twitter, and more frequent communitywide meetings.
Executives also backed away from a retail concept put forth last decade by the company and a former development partner, Opus Northwest. The proposal, known as The High Streets, consisted of a planned pedestrian-friendly “lifestyle center” with shops and restaurants connected by sidewalks. The development pact between Port Blakely and Opus unraveled in 2008.
“In retrospect, we’re probably fortunate that the timing was what it was,” Kirk said. “Had they started it about six months earlier, we’d probably have a lot of empty storefronts to deal with” as a result of the recession.
Besides the promise for better communication and greater transparency, the developers offered little new information about plans. Kirk and the team reiterated support for a grocery store in the community, and said a planned movie theater should boost visitors to the highlands and, in turn, draw additional businesses.
But the effort to open a single business — like the theater, for instance — can be complicated, because the agreements between the tenant and Port Blakely include a co-tenancy clause. The rider allows a business to delay development plans until a high-traffic business commits to a site.
“The cinema, they don’t want to be the lone ranger on the hill, so they do have some co-tenancy requirements,” Vice President for Marketing & Leasing Genni Reilly said. The theater, she added, requires a grocery store as a main co-tenant. The co-tenancy deal also includes restaurants.
“The wheels are in the motion and we’re working hard every day,” Reilly said.