By Meghan Hall
The City of Kenmore sits just about 20 minutes north of Seattle’s and Bellevue’s central business districts, at the north tip of Lake Washington. Now, with the region’s rapid growth, Kenmore officials have released a new economic development study that they hope will drive increased land and business development in the young town. The report, produced by Seattle-based Community Attributes, Inc. (CAI) indicated that Kenmore, despite only having six square miles under its jurisdiction, has 54.8 acres of vacant or physically underutilized lands in commercial zones, and the city hopes developers will take note.
“It’s just that there are so many possibilities here in Kenmore, and more and more people are becoming aware of those possibilities,” said Kenmore Mayor David Baker.
The report comes ten years after Kenmore’s last iteration of its Economic Development Strategy was implemented. The 2009 plan sought to further promote and establish Kenmore’s image as a growing, family-focused city while increasing accessibility to Lake Washington and supporting expanding businesses and creating a walkable downtown.
“We’ve made good progress on all those fronts, but it was time to update the strategy,” explained Nancy Ousley, Kenmore’s assistant city manager. “We have a really bright future and some really good things to point to. As a community, I always like to say we’re aspirational; people are really excited about progress.”
According to city officials, the 2009 Economic Development Strategy was very successful; Kenmore experienced 37 percent more commercial development than the previous 20 years. All of the city’s original goals from the initial economic development plan have been incorporated into the new strategy; in addition, the city is striving to expand on multi-modal transportation and focus on creating high-quality retail and office developments.
“This has always been a really strong residential area,” explained Ousley. “We are really, really interested in having more office development and more employment here. We’ve seen really good investment with residential, but it’s time now to balance that with some more jobs and opportunities for local businesses to grow here in Kenmore.”
In addition to the more than 50 acres of vacant or underutilized land in the City, the study also points to an additional 41 acres that is currently under development, recently developed or in the pre-development stages. The vast majority of available land in Kenmore is zoned for regional business and downtown commercial uses. Nearly 33 acres were zoned for regional business and downtown commercial uses. Another 10.9 acres was designated as useable for downtown residential development, property that the City will need if it intends to bring new business in the area.
The latest economic report forecasts that Kenmore is expected to grow from 8,300 households to 10,300 households by 2025, an increase of 24 percent.
The report also estimates that building upon the city’s underdeveloped land could result in roughly 2,100 new jobs in Kenmore. From the study, it’s evident that the vast majority of Kenmore’s residents commute out of the city for work; of the town’s roughly 10,235 residents, only 289, or nearly three percent, live and work within city limits.
“Knowing the City of Kenmore, and knowing where it is in the regional growth trends, it was an exciting time to do the economic development plan with [the City] because of all of the exciting things happening around Kenmore,” said CAI’s president Chris Mefford.
Kenmore officials hope that increased commercial development will support the city’s business incubator programs and allow more of Kenmore’s residents to work in the same city they call home. According to Ousley, 58 percent of the businesses registered with the city are home-based, signaling a need for additional office space with city limits.
“The way things are right now, there is a really short supply of office [space],” said Ousley.
While the city hopes to limit what Ousley termed “big box development” in favor of local businesses, city officials are still hoping Kenmore will attract satellite offices for major Seattle companies, such as Amazon, in the future. Co-working spaces are also of interest to the city, given the number of small home-based businesses in Kenmore.
“We’ve always been pro-business here. We’ve always been pro-small business,” said Baker.
Moving forward, Kenmore city officials hope that several key sites will be developed, including the 50-acre Lakepointe Property, which is to be developed by Weidner Apartment Homes. The property is the last piece of land of its size on Lake Washington to be developed.
“We’re going to get some critical mass in town that can support some of these things, which the city has always been lacking,” said Baker of the development currently happening around the Kenmore and its ability to spur more growth. “I think that has been really helpful.”
Currently, the City of Kenmore is not providing any incentives such as subsidies or tax breaks to encourage development, but Baker said officials were open to the idea. For now though, officials are hoping current development will continue to spur growth.
“I’d love to see, in the next five years or so, four or five companies that employ each at least 50 people,” said Ousley. “It takes just one company to make the leap and to get other companies interested in doing the same thing.”