Bellevue’s Spring District — a roughly 36-acre, $2.3-billion mixed-use development just east of downtown — will reach a pivotal point midyear, when major employers open offices there; hundreds of apartments are occupied; and, in at least one business, beer starts flowing.

“There’s going to be a point actually next summer where … a really significant amount of the Spring District will be open and full, and so summer 2020 is a big threshold for us,” said Greg Johnson, CEO of Seattle-based Wright Runstad & Co., the district’s master developer. “That’s when the REI headquarters will be opened, that’s when the first Facebook building will be occupied, that’s when all of the apartments that are being built there now are open, and then our brewpub should be opening right about that time as well.”

Johnson could not announce a brewpub operator when he was interviewed in early November but cited strong interest to operate the pub — part of an office/restaurant/retail building — and interest for Spring District space from other companies.

Approximately 800 apartment units will be open by summer, he said, adding that two complexes open now, Sparc and Arras, are mostly leased, totaling 588 units. And AMLI Spring District is under construction with 204 units, according to the city, which counted about 730 residential units built or under construction in November.

Johnson said the Spring District will be about two-thirds complete mid-2020, and his company is evaluating what to include in the final third to ensure it reflects the evolving market and responds to the anticipated success of the East Link light rail service beginning in 2023, connecting Seattle to Redmond. Options include more office and residential space, and possibly a 200-room hotel. He expects the entire 36 acres and 4 million square feet to be completed and active sometime between 2025 and 2027.

He’s thrilled with the district’s progress and reception.

“We think it’s seen great success,” Johnson said. “We’re really pleased with the success of the apartments out there, that people have made the choice to live there even though it’s a giant construction site right now. I think that speaks to kind of the locational attributes … particularly now, people can start to see how close they’ll be to the light rail station,” and the other projects there. “It’s now becoming evident for people that want to live there that it’s going to be a great spot.” 

Spring District, part of the larger Bel-Red Subarea in the Bel-Red Road corridor, is a textbook example of transit-oriented development (TOD): high-density residential, commercial, and office development proximate to a light rail station — in this case, the East Link light rail Spring District/120th Station. The district is roughly bounded by 120th Avenue Northeast to the west, 124th Avenue Northeast to the east, 

“The vision here is for higher-density transit-oriented development, and that is what’s happening now,” Brennan said recently from Bellevue City Hall, west of the Spring District. “You look out east from here, and you see the tower cranes and the buildings that are popping up and they’re happening around the light rail station locations, so the vision is actually coming to life, which is very exciting.”

Spring District’s features were a draw for REI, the iconic outdoor retailer now based in Kent.

REI chose to relocate to the Spring District “because we wanted to create a hub that is accessible, sustainable and connected to the community,” Caitlin Goettler, REI public affairs associate, said in an email.

REI will move about 1,600 employees into its new headquarters in mid-2020, relocating them from Kent and Eastgate.

While REI will own its building, Facebook will be leasing.

Wright Runstad is scheduled to deliver the shell of Facebook’s first Spring District building in January, after which the tech giant will finish its interior space to start moving in spring, Johnson said. Facebook also will lease two other buildings in the district.

Facebook will begin occupying these offices over the next couple years, with expansion targeted for completion by 2023, according to Tracy Clayton, who manages corporate communications for Facebook Seattle, which counts more than 5,000 employees across 18 offices in Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond.

“Facebook Seattle has become our largest engineering office outside of our Menlo Park headquarters,” Clayton wrote in an email.

The company will occupy about 863,000 square feet in the Spring District, which represents space to accommodate growth, not relocate employees, Clayton said.

“Our current and planned footprints in South Lake Union and the Spring District represent our investment in continued growth in the greater Seattle region,” Clayton said. “We continue to source available expansions to accommodate our growth both in Seattle and Bellevue. The Seattle area is a dynamic and competitive real estate market, and we always want to keep our options open as we grow in the region.”

The company’s existing and future space in the Seattle region will total about 2.7 million square feet.

One major tenant with more than two years of experience in the Spring District is the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), which opened in September 2017 in a 96,000-square-foot office Wright Runstad owns. GIX, a partnership between the University of Washington and Tsinghua University in Beijing, is a graduate school focused on technology and innovation. It’s backed by a $40 million investment from Microsoft.

“I would say that the district has been working out very well for us,” said Lara Littlefield, chief strategy officer at GIX and associate vice president for innovation at CoMotion at UW.

The location offers proximity to multiple technology quarters, including industry partners with which students are working on projects, such as Microsoft, Nintendo, T-Mobile, and others, Littlefield said. She’s also looking forward to the arrival of Facebook and REI.

GIX had about 86 graduate students in the Master of Science in Technology Innovation program onsite in the fall, plus about 12 teaching faculty and 15 staff. In addition to offering its graduate degree program, GIX will provide executive training, creating a mix of graduate student and executive learners onsite, Littlefield said.

GIX has a number of students who live in the Spring District and walk to the facility, she said, exemplifying one of the district’s many attributes. 

“We’re all very excited for the light rail in 2023 providing direct access to the airport, back here to GIX,” Littlefield said. “I think it just unlocks a number of those possibilities and really enables us to be — again, back to our mission — connected to the world and bringing talent in and out of the Spring District.”

“It’s been a real pleasure getting to be an early partner in the Spring District,” she said, calling Wright Runstad a “great partner.”

Wright Runstad’s Johnson is pleased with the district’s progress from its past as a Safeway distribution site his company purchased in 2007.

“We’re 12 years into our plan, and you know, when you start something this big, you never quite know how it’s going to unfold,” Johnson said. “But we’re really excited about how that’s happening and that it’s got a lot of momentum now that’s going to enable us to finish up the final third kind of right within the kind of timeframes we anticipate.”

Wright Runstad isn’t limiting its development to the Spring District in the Bel-Red plan area. It’s looking at Bel-Red properties as they become available, he said.

As of November, Bel-Red had almost 1,000 residential units under review, including the Spring District, and another 368 under construction, according to the city.

The city’s Brennan said the Bel-Red area’s full development will be decades in the making, but it’s off to a good start.

“The true catalyst for all of this was the light rail and the planning work that created these high-density, transit-oriented development land use plans to really take advantage of that multibillion-dollar investment” in light rail, Brennan said. “That’s what this is about.”

Added Brennan, “This is a great example of thinking ahead and planning ahead, having some vision about what you’re trying to create as a city, and the excitement of watching it actually come to life.”

Photo by John Stearns