Early in the morning and late in the evening, a winged migration occurs in the city of Kenmore that is unlike any other on the Eastside.
You might think this airborne movement consists of the eagles and crows perched on treetops that populate the 316-acre Saint Edward State Park at the city’s south end, or the herons that wade near the shoreline at Log Boom Park close to downtown.
But this aviated fleet is instead comprised of seaplanes that, for more than 70 years, have departed from and returned to Kenmore Air’s headquarters at the north end of Lake Washington. What started in 1946 with one plane operating out of a single hangar in a Lake Washington swamp has grown to include more than 25 aircraft, 52 pilots, and more than 250 employees that transport people between Kenmore, Seattle, San Juan islands, and British Columbia — giving the city of Kenmore boosts in both economy and identity.
“When people think of Kenmore, they think of Kenmore Air,” explained Mayor David Baker, who was elected to the city council in 2004, and appointed mayor in 2007. “That’s a tremendous asset for us. Kenmore Air has created a quality brand, and I’m happy to have that spill over onto us as a city.”
Indeed, Kenmore’s city logo includes the image of a seaplane, and its community center is called The Hangar.
Before there were seaplanes, Kenmore was a King County town. It was founded in 1901 and supported for a long time by a manufacturing economy that produced cement, asphalt, lumber, plywood, and shingles — most of which were loaded onto boats and barges docked along industrial ports at the north end of Lake Washington. It also was home to dozens of speakeasies, roadhouses, and dance halls.
Traces of these industries exist today, with Plywood Supply and Kenmore Asphalt Materials still accounting for some of the biggest employers in town, and the Cozy Inn Tavern still pouring stiff drinks to thirsty locals.
But, surprisingly, the city’s biggest employer isn’t Kenmore Air. Rather, it’s Bastyr University.
The university was founded in Seattle in 1978, and relocated to Kenmore in 1996, when it moved into the former St. Thomas Seminary, a 51-acre campus that borders Saint Edward State Park, also the site of the former St. Edward Seminary. Its curriculum is focused on teaching alternative and naturopathic medicine, and the university employs nearly 1,000 people.
Much like Kenmore Air, Bastyr University has helped to boost Kenmore’s identity. “There’s a lot of recognition nationally of that university,” Baker noted. “They are very, very well-known and respected.”
Having two anchor companies with sweeping regional presences is an asset for a city of Kenmore’s size. Just under 23,000 people live in Kenmore, which was incorporated in September 1998 and has an annual general fund revenue of nearly $12 million. Its city limits span approximately six square miles, with State Route 522 bisecting the city and transporting about 60,000 vehicles every day between Interstate 5 and Interstate 405.
About 3,700 people comprise Kenmore’s workforce, and the city counts approximately 1,000 registered businesses (58 percent of those are home-based). According to city officials, approximately 10,235 Kenmore residents (nearly half its population) leave Kenmore to work at jobs outside of the city, while fewer than 2,900 people commute to Kenmore for work.
In 2013, the city and the Bothell Kenmore Chamber of Commerce launched a business incubator program to offer low-cost office space, mentorship, and business development support, as well as to connect business professionals to networking events, workshops, and seminars.
But much of the city’s development activity has occurred in the past decade and centered on downtown— more specifically, a 10-acre expanse of property near 68th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 181st Street, just a block away from State Route 522. The land was formerly an underused park-and-ride lot, as well as an aging strip mall. The city acquired the properties in 2003 and 2004, and started to move forward on developing its downtown.
“We were positioning it to be redeveloped, and to provide a real kind of center of downtown,” said assistant city manager Nancy Ousley. “As an unincorporated but very strong community that had been around for a long time, there was no sense of that. Soon after incorporation, the community and the city council came up with a downtown plan that said this area is where we want to really focus investment, both public and private.”
Kenmore Camera, another notable legacy business in the city, purchased part of the property and expanded its retail presence.
In 2010, city staff moved into a new LEED-Gold City Hall building in this newly identified downtown. A new King County Library branch and the Northshore Fire District building opened in 2011.
Kirkland-based MainStreet Property Group followed up by investing $100 million to develop a handful of projects that have activated downtown. LINQ Lofts + Flats opened in 2016 and offers 94 apartment units for lease, as well as a large swath of street-level commercial office space that is leased by EvergreenHealth. One year later, The Spencer 68 opened, adding another 197 apartment units to downtown Kenmore.
The developer is expected to open Seaplane Kitchen + Bar this fall in a building that will house the 5,700-square-foot restaurant, as well as 3,000 square feet of office space. Finally, the company has submitted permit applications to develop Fly Way, which is projected to include five townhomes and 1,500 square feet of commercial space.
Meanwhile, The Town Square and The Hangar, located just across the way from Seaplane Kitchen + Bar, opened a year ago this month. The Town Square is a public plaza and spray ground; The Hangar is a community building owned and operated by the City of Kenmore, offering free Wi-Fi and coffee and food prepared by Diva Espresso.
The development momentum downtown has expanded into other parts of Kenmore.
Just a short walk from downtown, Weidner Apartment Homes plans to develop roughly 50 acres of property along Lake Washington into Lakepointe, a mixed-use waterfront village.
Outside of downtown and on the south end of the city, Daniels Real Estate has signed a 62-year lease agreement with Washington State Parks to rehabilitate the former seminary building at Saint Edward State Park into a lodge with 80 to 100 guest rooms, several banquet rooms, a spa, and two restaurants.
One of Kenmore’s most unexpected development drivers has been the Burke-Gilman Trail, which laces its way between Seattle and Bothell, and shadows State Route 522 through Kenmore.
If the city was known for bars and roadhouses a century ago, it’s reviving that image, but in a much different way. A one-block stretch of the trail is home to three breweries — Cairn Brewing, Nine Yards Brewing Company, and 192 Brewing Company — earning it the nickname “Brew Row.”
“Brew Row has the best biker bars in town,” Mayor Baker quipped. “If you ride along the Burke-Gilman Trail, there are openings in the fence, and people stop to enjoy a beer. It’s really tough to pick which one to go to because they are all so good.”
And while some Eastside cities might raise their backs at being called a bedroom community, Baker has owned the label.
“I love it because that means it’s a place where families can live and grow,” said Baker. “That doesn’t bother me at all.”