Highlands developer hires consultant for commercial growth

June 1, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Grocery store delayed again

Issaquah Highlands developer Port Blakely Communities has hired a Seattle real-estate consultant to help jumpstart commercial development in the hillside community.

Heartland, the consultant, will help guide Port Blakely in the tough economy, and help the developer in the hunt for a partner to develop a planned town center of businesses and residences along Highlands Drive Northeast.

“Port Blakely hired Heartland to help give them some new strategic direction,” John Shaw, a director at Heartland, told City Council members last week.

The city has also enlisted Heartland to assist in planning for redevelopment in Central Issaquah, the 915-acre commercial core.

Shaw and Judd Kirk, a longtime Port Blakely executive, updated Council Major Planning & Growth Committee members about commercial development in the highlands at a May 24 meeting.

The duo offered a familiar refrain to city officials accustomed to delays.

The developer announced another delay for a proposed highlands grocery store. The company planned to announce the deal in March, Port Blakely executives said at a community meeting in February. Kirk said the company now hopes to receive confirmation from the still-unnamed grocery chain during the summer.
Kirk said a grocery chain executive had inspected the site and recommended for the company to build a store in the highlands.

Regal Cinemas announced plans last summer to open a highlands theater in May 2011. But the grocery store delay could impact the theater, too, because the proposed theater requires a grocery store as a co-tenant.

Moreover, Kirk said issues related to parking for the theater had not been resolved. The initial plan called for a parking garage to be built for theater patrons.

The controversial plan to amend the agreement between the city and Port Blakely to enable construction of a gas station in the highlands could return to the council for a decision by late summer or early fall. Port Blakely withdrew the request at the last minute in December, just before the council had been scheduled to discuss the proposal.

The proposal has raised concerns about potential ground water contamination and conflicts with the original vision for the highlands as a “green” community.

Kirk said the highlands could be more appealing to potential tenants because of the high-profile projects under construction there. Since October, construction crews broke ground for a Swedish Medical Center campus, YWCA Family Village at Issaquah and zHome — a group of eco-friendly townhouses. Kirk said the activity shows potential tenants the interest and activity in the community.

Councilman Fred Butler — a Major Planning & Growth Committee member — asked if Port Blakely could predict whether businesses and developers might become interested in the highlands.

“What is the lead time associated for the savvy companies that would invest up there in nonresidential?” he said. “When would you start to feel pretty good that someone would be knocking on your door saying ‘Let’s talk?’”

“That’s kind of like predicting interest rates — it’s very difficult,” Kirk replied.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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