New, relocated businesses boost Issaquah economy
May 4, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
The local economy has improved since last year, but increased retail offerings and high-profile construction projects could help the city rebound in the months ahead.
Economic Development Manager Dan Trimble said the city had progressed beyond the economic doldrums of last year. Joe’s — the longtime sporting goods retailer — closed as the city grappled with dual real estate and building construction slowdowns brought on by the recession.
“In 2010, we started to see the economic recovery start to take hold,” Trimble told City Council members April 27. “We’ve had some new retail moving in, both big and small. Construction activity has been returning.”
Swedish Medical Center started construction on a campus in the Issaquah Highlands late last year, and Best Buy and Sports Authority will open Issaquah stores in the months ahead. Sports Authority will occupy the old Joe’s space, and Best Buy will fill vacant space in the bustling East Lake Center shopping complex anchored by Fred Meyer and The Home Depot.
Sports Authority should generate $85,000 to $100,000 annually in sales tax revenue for the city; Best Buy should pull in $100,000 to $200,000, city Finance Director Jim Blake said in a May 1 conference call with council members.
The former Linens-N-Things and Albertsons remain vacant. Trimble said the empty grocery store along East Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast could be difficult to fill.
“Unfortunately, it’s probably going to be one of the last big boxes available,” he said.
But Trimble said some vacancies could be attractive to business owners, especially if an entrepreneur has plans to expand.
“While from a resident’s perspective or even from a landowner’s perspective, sometimes vacancy is a horrible thing,” he said, “a little bit of vacancy is sometimes good for your small business community, because it creates opportunities for you to move, for you to grow, for you to expand and it gives you a little more stable rent structure.”
Construction in downtown Issaquah will draw relocated businesses in the months ahead. Workers continue to remodel the former Allen’s Furniture store into space for the Bicycle Center of Issaquah and Amante Pizza & Pasta. The bicycle shop will relocate from just down Front Street North, and the Italian eatery will move from its location behind the Gilman Square complex.
ArtWalk Issaquah, Music on the Streets and a free film series at the Issaquah Train Depot continue to draw people to the historic downtown, the economic development manager said.
Trimble said the area could also host new festivals within the next year — a winter festival and another devoted to outdoor recreation — although planning for the events remains in preliminary stages.
DownTown Issaquah Association Executive Director Greg Spranger said he welcomed additional reasons for people to head downtown.
“Anything that will bring more people and commerce to the downtown is a plus,” he said.
Meanwhile, Village Theatre continues to renovate the almost-century-old First Stage building. Trimble said the overhauled theater should provide another downtown attraction after workers complete the renovation.
“The reconstruction will allow this wonderful building that has an incredibly rich history the opportunity to be filled with life again,” theater spokeswoman Michelle Sanders said. “It’s actually very exciting to think about, especially since the building has been vacant for quite a few months now.”
Trimble said the city and Issaquah Chamber of Commerce hope to promote Issaquah as a tourist destination through the discoverissaquah.com website. The site details well-known Issaquah attractions, such as the Salmon Days Festival and Fenders on Front Street car show.
Officials also discussed the advantage of attracting more residents to the city. Councilman Joshua Schaer requested more information about residential patterns, if more people relocated to Issaquah or left the city in the past year.
“Clearly, the more people we get living in Issaquah, the more that’s going to translate to consumer dollars spent in Issaquah — we hope,” Schaer said.
Other measures could redefine how the city handles economic development and local businesses. Trimble said officials might overhaul how the city spends lodging-tax dollars. Issaquah restaurateurs could form a restaurant association.
Councilman Tola Marts asked for more information in the months ahead about the concerns of Issaquah business owners.
“Our commercial constituents are a core constituency as much as our residential folks are,” he said. “Part of our job is to go back to them and say that we’re doing everything that we can.