Kirkland’s namesake envisioned a bustling waterfront city with steel as its main industry more than a century ago. Today, the city is a tech industry hub attracting commercial and residential developers.

Peter Kirk. Courtesy City of Kirkland

In the 1880s, a British immigrant named Peter Kirk arrived in the Pacific Northwest with one business goal in mind: create a local steel mill industry to rival that found in Pittsburgh. Kirk and several area businessmen settled on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, anticipating it would be the focus for Pacific Rim trade.

Those plans were dashed by the Panic of 1893, an event rife with bank failures and railroad company collapses. Kirk’s proposed steel mill closed before its engines were fired up. Instead, wool milling and ship building became the area’s flagship industries, leading to the city’s incorporation in 1905 with 400 residents.

More than a century later, Kirkland is an expansive waterfront city, and a sought-after destination for tech companies, retailers, and its 83,460 residents who enjoy a comfortable quality of life.

“We are the only downtown that’s immediately on the lake,” said Ellen Miller-Wolfe, the city of Kirkland’s economic development director. “It’s a destination as well as being someone’s neighborhood.”


Downtown Kirkland

Residents and locals flock to Kirkland’s walkable downtown for paddleboarding, art galleries, the performance art center, dozens of restaurants, and shopping.

But while Kirkland has long offered a mixed-used urban center with hillside, downtown-facing housing nearby, one project — Kirkland Urban — is poised to add a new dimension to downtown over the next 10 years.

The three-phase, 11.5-acre, mixed-use project includes 620,000 square feet of Class A office space — Tableau and Wave will be two main tenants — 203,000 square feet of commercial space (which will be occupied by retail, restaurants, a grocery store, theater, and health club), and 352,000 square feet of housing. The first phase will likely be completed by 2019, with the second phase to follow shortly after.

The additional office space will be a big deal for the city, according to City of Kirkland senior planner Angela Ruggeri.

“We, like other communities, have 4 out of 5 people that are employed (outside Kirkland) and run in and out of here every day, which is part of the reason why we have such congestion on our roadways,” Ruggeri said. “The idea of potentially providing jobs for people that live here so they don’t have to deal with that is one of those ideas we’re trying to nurture. We talk about this idea of the 10-minute neighborhood; everything you need is within 10 minutes.”


A New Experience at Totem Lake

Another key project is the development of the Village at Totem Lake, which is turning an aged and vacated 45-year-old shopping mall into a new mixed-used center.

“I’ve been here about 12 years, and it was very blighted,” Miller-Wolfe said. “We had the potential of development, and then there was the recession that wiped that idea out. It’s only recently that the current developer, CenterCal Properties (and Fairfield Residential), purchased the property.”

When completed, the 26-acre Village at Totem Lake site will include more than 350,000 square feet of retail space (including a movie theater) and about 850 housing units, according to City of Kirkland associate planner Scott Guter. The ground-floor retail storefronts (home to Whole Foods, Nordstrom Rack, Ross, and several others) are opening throughout this year and next. The last of the upper-mall portion is scheduled to open in the summer of 2020.

The City of Kirkland expressed an endearment of support by agreeing to pay $15 million in public improvements in the Totem Lake neighborhood.

“This is not the wealthiest city, so for us to put money like that down for a project is a big deal,” Miller-Wolfe said. “We’re not just looking at redevelopment of the property. We’re talking about putting the heart in Totem Lake.”

Guter said the city has been working extensively to rezone Totem Lake. In the early 2000s, the mall and surrounding area were designated as a regional growth center. The Totem Lake Urban Center is one of 29 regional growth centers in the Puget Sound area. The centers are designed to accommodate the city’s highest density with amenities to support it. Hence, Kirkland’s $15 million investment. Transit-oriented development is underway to make the area more walkable and bus-friendly, and less reliant on cars.

“We’ve placed the growth where we have a place to accommodate it,” Miller-Wolfe said. “And that’s where Totem Lake is.”


Blended Neighborhood Business Districts

Threaded through the city of Kirkland are unique neighborhoods that offer their own business districts, but on smaller scales than downtown and Totem Lake.

Juanita, which dates back to the 1850s, was annexed by Kirkland in 1998, along with the North Rose Hill and South Rose Hill neighborhoods. About a decade ago, developers built Juanita Village, a mixed-use project that included retail, housing, and office space, creating a neighborhood hub that replaced a 1960s strip shopping mall. The 11.2-acre site includes 580 multifamily residential units; 88,000 square feet of retail space; courtyards, and additional parking.

“There was no real heart to that community,” Ruggeri said. “When it (was) built, it became a place for people to go and gather. It became like the living room of that neighborhood.”

The business district is vibrant, though not as bustling as downtown, and serves the neighborhood.

On the south end of town are Central Houghton and Everest, two neighborhoods that offer a small business district and residential respite akin to Juanita, with Google’s Sixth Street campus as the centerpiece.

Ruggeri said she recently conducted a neighborhood plan, and the residents expressed their desire to keep the area much the same.

In Mayor Amy Walen’s State of the City speech in February, she contended that all the recent development falls in line with the city’s comprehensive plan to address growth in a way that makes Kirkland even more of a destination to live, work, and be entertained. Residents wanted walkable spaces highlighted with greenery, and a new assortment of retail and transit options. That request is manifesting in the recent construction that will amplify Kirkland’s appeal.

Miller-Wolfe added, “We can’t outrun growth, and so we are doing our best to accommodate it and preserve the community assets that make Kirkland unique.”