Like most Eastside cities, Kirkland is facing booms in population growth and commercial development. Kirkland counts 82,600 residents, 38,700 jobs, and 37,400 units of housing. By 2035, city officials expect to add nearly 22,500 jobs and nearly 8,400 housing units. While fewer than 530 housing units are currently under construction, nearly 2,100 applications are being reviewed, and nearly 2,100 applications are pending. Similarly, nearly 1.5 million square feet of Class-A office and commercial space are either under construction or working their way through the application process at City Hall.

“It’s exciting and awesome,” said Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett. “It’s just happening at this unbelievable pace. This is true in Bellevue and Redmond, as well. But you are really seeing it in huge chunks in Kirkland.”

Triplett was one of several city officials who recently invited our staff of writers, editors, and designers to learn more about the city. Economic Development Manager Ellen Miller-Wolfe organized the tour. We met at City Hall for a brief presentation, then climbed into a large van to tour Kirkland, with a focus on future developments.

As much as the Eastside’s city leaders like to tout the Innovation Triangle — a symbiotically-intentioned relationship between Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond — Kirkland officials aren’t hesitant to tout their city’s inherent advantages: Park Lane, the super-walkable and pedestrian corridor that runs through downtown and is filled with boutique shops and a variety of restaurants; and the Lake Washington waterfront, which borders downtown’s west side and is a favorite for boaters and beachgoers alike.

“I think we have been more like friendly rivals for a long time, where we really did have some competition,” said Triplett. He compared the relationship to the Three Tenors: three performers with great careers, individually. “Now we are working together and making this magnificent music. But we’re the third tenor that no one keeps remembering. They remember Bellevue and they remember Redmond because of Microsoft and tech, but we are sort of that, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s Kirkland, too!’”

Here are some of the highlights from our tour:

Downtown Development

Rendering courtesy Kirkland Urban / Talon Private Capital

Bordering Peter Kirk Park in the heart of downtown Kirkland, Kirkland Urban is a massive, 11.5-acre mixed-use, multi-phase development will include 650,000 square feet of Class-A office space (future tenants include Tableau and Wave, and the office towers could serve as many as 5,000 employees), 225,000 of commercial space (future tenants include QFC, Bright Horizons, and HomeStreet Bank, as well as restaurants, a movie theater, and a health club), 300,000 square feet of residential space (room for 380 one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and townhouse rental units), and enough parking for 1,700 vehicles.

The project is a partnership between Prudential Global Investment Management, which owns the land, and Talon Private Capital, which is developing the site.

Talon Private Capitol director Bill Leedom noted Kirkland Urban will increase the amount of Class-A office space in Kirkland’s existing portfolio by 65 percent, giving the city an edge when it comes to landing and retaining companies. “Historically, what happens – Costco is a great example of this — is companies that have developed here have had to relocate to other Eastside cities because there hasn’t been the office space,” said Leedom. “We viewed that as a great opportunity, and right downtown.”

Kirkland Urban’s first phase is expected to open early next year, with subsequent phases coming online by 2021.

Also in the works downtown: Park Lane, a mixed-use project just west of Kirkland Urban and on the former Antique Mall site, that will offer 128 residential units and more than 13,000 square feet of commercial space; and View West, another mixed-use project on the former Bungie headquarters site, that will offer nearly 200 residential units and approximately 20,000 square feet of commercial space.

Village at Totem Lake 

For decades, Totem Lake was known more for its namesake shopping mall than its namesake lake (see “Totem Lake Park” below). Originally opened in 1973, the mall was home to department stores and even a movie theater. The mall started to decline in the mid-1990s as anchor tenants closed their doors. “For 20 or 30 years, it was a mall that had potential,” said deputy mayor Jay Arnold. “Then it slowly degraded and became a problem that needed to be solved.”

Rendering courtesy Village at Totem Lake / CenterCal Properties

A solution started to emerge in 2003, when the area was formally designated an urban center, turning the focus toward housing, employment, and transportation developments. Indeed, some of the city’s biggest redevelopment projects are slated for the Totem Lake area. Arizona-based The Wolff Co. spent $23.5 million earlier this year to purchase property formerly owned by Lifebridge Church. The company plans to build 550 units of senior and market-rate residential housing on the nearly 13-acre site.

But the biggest development is the Village at Totem Lake. CenterCal Properties purchased the 26-acre site four years ago, and is nearing the completion of the first of two phases of a mixed-use project that includes more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space (tenants include Nordstrom Rack, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Wells Fargo, Chipotle, MOD Pizza, Verizon, and AT&T), and 850 units of housing. Construction of the second phase is scheduled to begin next year, and be completed in 2021.

“We are really enthusiastic that Totem Lake is redeveloping and becoming the place that we would like it to be,” said Arnold, who also noted the bulk of Kirkland’s growth is happening in Totem Lake; by 2030, Totem Lake is expected to boast 20,600 jobs and 8,000 residents. “It’s great, but a little awe-inspiring in its pace.”

“It’s very comparable to what’s going on in Bellevue with the Spring District,” added Triplett. “Bellevue’s focus is much more on the office side. But in terms of the total acreage and the total number of units in housing, it’s that kind of development, and it’s happening without Sound Transit light rail coming to catalyze it.”

Totem Lake Park

Image courtesy City of Kirkland

“Totem Lake is actually a lake,” said Triplett as we gathered along a boardwalk built along the four-acre lake’s shoreline. “Most people don’t know that.” While the city developed a master plan for the area, many residents said they wanted more done to showcase the lake, which is shrouded by thick vegetation and bordered by marshes (driving by the lake, and even standing on the boardwalk, it was difficult to catch a glimpse of water).

According to Triplett, the City invested in the Totem Lake Master Plan to create a mini Green Lake that includes the construction of a 10-foot-wide boardwalk that will circle the lake, as well as restrooms, a playground, parking lot, interpretive signs, and spots to view wildlife.

The city has set aside $9 million for the $15 million Totem Lake Park project, which currently is in the design phase. City officials envision the lake as a serene respite for visitors to nearby Evergreen Hospital, Lake Washington Institute of Technology, and the Village at Totem Lake.

Totem Lake Connector

Image courtesy City of Kirkland

Cyclists and pedestrians traveling along the 5.75-mile Cross Kirkland Corridor face a gauntlet of sorts when they reach the busy intersection of Totem Lake Boulevard and Northeast 124th Street. “This is our busiest intersection in the city,” explained Triplett. “Bikes and pedestrians are constantly stopped here, it takes forever for them to get across, and it’s not very safe because drivers are constantly turning without looking.”

This could be a much safer scene thanks to the a nearly $13 million bridge (known as the “skipping stone”) that will pass over this busy intersection, loop around at the southern end of Totem Lake Park for an elevated view of the lake, and continue toward the trail’s terminus.

The project is still in the design phase, but city officials hope it will be funded and built by 2020.

Other Items of Interest

Essential to all this growth and development is public transportation, said Triplett. Sound Transit plans to introduce Bus Rapid Transit along Interstate 405 and construct a new station at Northeast 85th Street by 2024, as well as build a light rail line connecting south Kirkland to Issaquah by 2041. The city is investing $1.5 million — and partnering with local social service agencies — to open the first permanent homeless shelter for women and families on the Eastside. Finally, Kirkland enjoys a vibrant and charming waterfront downtown with lots of shops and restaurants. Will big mixed-use projects such as Kirkland Urban and the Village at Totem Lake pose threats to some of the more established downtown businesses? Deputy Mayor Arnold believes Kirkland Urban will complement these existing businesses, while the Village at Totem Lake will offer the kinds of services that Kirkland residents travel to Bellevue to appreciate.

Learn more about the future of Kirkland and the entire Eastside here.