Kemper Freeman Jr. and his family helped build Bellevue, and they’re not done yet. Now he’s building more

It’s nearly impossible to talk about retail on the Eastside without talking about Kemper Freeman Jr. and his Bellevue Collection, an anchor of downtown Bellevue since shortly after World War II.

The Collection began somewhat humbly in 1946 as Bellevue Shopping Square in what had been sprawling strawberry fields of the Eastside. Freeman’s dad, Kemper Sr., developed the 16-store retail center after traveling all over the United States studying the nation’s first shopping malls.

The center’s name was changed to Bellevue Square in 1955. By 1966, it had more than 40 stores and three major department stores: Frederick and Nelson, J.C. Penney Co., and Nordstrom.

The 1980s and ’90s brought four major remodels to Bellevue Square. The center became a multi-level shopping center with more than 1 million square feet. The Bon Marche, which eventually would become Macy’s, was added during the fourth phase of renovation. During that time, Bellevue Place, located on Bellevue Way between Northeast Eighth and Northeast 10th streets, was developed.

A third shopping center called Lincoln Square opened in 2005, and it is undergoing its own transformation on the northeast corner of Bellevue Way and Northeast Fourth Street. Freeman broke ground on the project in June and plans to have the retail and portions of the lower office completed in the fall of 2016. The rest of the expansion, including hotel towers and skybridge, will be completed in 2017, according to Jennifer Leavitt, Bellevue Collection’s vice president of marketing.

Once complete, the 1.5 million square feet of additional mixed use space will include a 4- and 5-star hotel, chef-driven restaurants, Class A office space, 250 residences, and retail stores. Details of what companies will lease the spaces were not available at press time.

Bellevue Square’s expansion at the southwest corner of Bellevue Way and Northeast Fourth Street will begin later this year, and will be completed in late 2017. When the two projects are complete, a skybridge over Bellevue Way will connect them.

Freeman says the expansion projects are on schedule with no major hiccups.
“We almost started this several years ago, and the Recession hit,” Freeman says. “I’m glad we stopped because it would have been pretty tough. (But) it’s going well right now.”

As far as the economy goes, the Bellevue Collection has seen growth in the past five years, which bodes well for Freeman and his development company.

“The economy is still screwed up,” Freeman says, “but it’s better than it was.”
Freeman said earlier this year that 2013 was the Bellevue Collection’s strongest year in its 68-year history.

“It is an exciting way to head into our next opportunity for community building in Bellevue as we launch into our expansion of Lincoln Square and Bellevue Square,” he said.