Bellevue Prepares for Its Post-Pandemic Future

It’s been a long two years since the beginning of the pandemic, and after years of remote work, online shopping and at-home entertainment, people are ready to get out again. For downtown Bellevue in particular, the return to the office heralds a fresh start for local retailers, restaurants and arts spaces; now, they just need to figure out where to put everyone.

The city is seeing explosive growth thanks to investment from large tech companies like Amazon and Meta. Currently, more than 16 million square feet of commercial office space is being developed downtown; the project stages range from planning, construction, or near completion, spanning between now and 2035.

Of those 16 million square feet, Amazon accounts for 6.3 million square feet across 8 projects, which is more than the company currently has planned for its HQ2 outside Washington, D.C. The Spring District has a strong presence from Meta, and there are also plans for redevelopment of East Main downtown, along with upcoming plans for the Wilburton area.

All this construction bodes well for the companies that are invested in the area, but this desirability has come with a rapidly-rising price tag for residential real estate. The city is expecting somewhere around an additional 30,000 employees in downtown within the next few years.

Business travel to the Eastside has also picked up again, reaching about 85% of pre-pandemic levels. Most domestic travelers to the area come from New York, Las Angeles and Chicago, but the area has international appeal thanks to its strong technology and healthcare sectors.

With that in mind, city leadership is seeking ways to keep housing affordable while also investing heavily in new transit options. The Eastlink Light Rail will be opening in Bellevue next year, which should provide some relief for commuters. The city is also looking into the possibility of creating mobility hubs, where multiple forms of public transit can be accessed from one area.

As downtown Bellevue prepares for an influx of workers, the city is also working on a strategy to entice people to spend their leisure time in the area, shopping at local businesses, attending Seattle sporting events and supporting the arts. By some estimates, sporting events have already returned to pre-pandemic levels, while the arts remain at about 60% – 70% of pre-pandemic levels.

Some leaders in the arts space think the best option is to make the most of the online spaces that allow people to participate with the arts. This “omnichannel” approach will allow patrons to stay engaged in the local arts scene at whatever level they choose to participate, encouraging donations and monetary support while encouraging them to return in person.

This hybrid approach to the arts may be indicative of a larger trend when it comes to returning to the office; a recent national survey of 12,000 workers returning to the office found that 60% of workers wanted to continue to social distance in some way. As Bellevue prepares for its post-pandemic future, it must incorporate some of the strategies that helped us survive and thrive in the past.

Information for this article was found on 425Business here and here.

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