City of Kenmore downtown development sets example for future Washington municipal projects

The city of Kenmore is opening its town square and community center this month with the hopes of attracting additional residents and businesses to the area. Photo: City of Kenmore

As one King County city moves to develop its downtown, developers and city staff are praising the move as a way to attract more economic activity and residential growth.

Stakeholders say the estimated $100 million public-private investment into the Kenmore’s new town square and facilities since 2014 can be applied to other towns and cities across the state, and the streamlined permitting process should act as a model for future developments.

“This is a community that has a lot of great strengths about it and community that wants to transform … that’s what’s really fun about working with Kenmore,” said Rob Karlinsey, who is the city manager for Kenmore.

On August 26, the city of Kenmore held the grand opening of its new $4.5 million Town Square and Hangar community building. This milestone follows other major developments completed this year, including two new apartment facilities.

Kenmore, located west of Bothell, offers access to both downtown Seattle and the East Side, which Karlinsey argues is a great asset as the city continues to expand. The area was part of unincorporated King County until it became a city in 1998. Since that time, creating a downtown for the community has always been a priority, Karlinsey said.

In 2003, the city’s downtown task force adopted a plan to develop the center of Kenmore. Two years later, Kenmore assembled and purchased approximately 10 acres of aging commercial property. Over the next few years, the city sold it back to the private sector with redevelopment incentives, and based on the condition that the run-down buildings would be torn down and replaced with new, mixed-use buildings to meet the needs of the new downtown.

In 2012, the previous developer, Urban Partners, and the city of Kenmore ended their relationship and city staff made plans to continue development. They worked to gauge what the community would like to see, along with how to make the area and new facilities more marketable.

“The city wanted its own downtown gathering place that the residents could all call their own, kind of like a community living room,” said Karlinsey.

The downtown plans required three civic components, all of which are now built: a city hall built in 2010, a new library built in 2011 and the community center which opened this month.

The $100 million public-private investment was a huge development opportunity for Kenmore, according to MainStreet Property Group President Kelly Price. The company purchased the lower commercial portion of downtown Kenmore in March 2015, according to the city website.

Price said the city of Kenmore has been a “great partner” throughout the permitting process.

“It is clear that the city staff actively cares about quality development within Kenmore, and the city has taken an interest in partnering with us to ensure that we are able to deliver the unique, quality projects that we want — providing benefits to the city as a whole as a result,” he said.

The city also partnered with Seattle-based Diva Expresso to become a tenant in the new gathering area, with the intent of “putting eyes” on the space and to help offset operating costs, according to Karlinsey.

“Diva Espresso’s local brand is a great fit for our city’s newest hangout space. Their presence in the Hangar Building will help to shape the warm and inviting atmosphere we envision for the space,” said Mayor David Baker in a March press release.

Also notable is the Hangar, a community gathering place with a design based on the city’s historical roots with seaplanes, as the city sports one of the largest seaplane bases in the world.

The rest of the space is open to the public, featuring a two-sided fireplace, tables, a projection screen and a surround sound system, added Karlinsey.

“It’s been open for about two weeks and it’s already doing exactly what we hoped it would do. We haven’t even promoted it that much yet and the community… is hanging out there,” said Karlinsey.

The additions also allow for more walkability in the downtown area, which promotes greater economic activity, Price said. “The downtown that is being developed is desirable for people to live and work in because of the new services and residences that downtown Kenmore has to offer.”

Other additions currently in progress include a sit-down restaurant, office space and a mixed-use building with commercial and residential space. The city’s restaurant tenant is going through the building permit process now, and Karlinsey said the facility should be up and running sometime in summer 2018. 

Karlinsey said the new apartments should also work to address the regional housing shortage, adding that hopefully the redevelopment plans will cause a ripple effect, encouraging neighboring property owners to also redevelop.

Last year, the state Department of Commerce awarded the city of Kenmore the “Smart Partnerships” award as part of the 2016 Washington State Governor’s Smart Communities Awards.

“The Kenmore Village is a model for other smaller communities wanting to encourage economic growth and revitalize their downtown, increase housing and activate retail in the city center,” according to the news release.

“Kenmore is proof that a proactive city manager, staff and a supportive city council can really help positively shape the development of a downtown area,” said Price.


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