Spring District Station emerges from a sea of concrete with office buildings in the distance. Progress here as of summer 2022. (The Urbanist)

The Spring District has seen more than 2,000 homes, 4 million square feet of office, and 8,000 parking stalls recently delivered or in development.

East Link TOD Series: As Sound Transit prepares to launch the East Link Starter Line on April 27, The Urbanist is going station-by-station to look at how the neighborhoods have been changing and preparing for light rail’s arrival with transit-oriented development (TOD) via our “East Link TOD” series. Back in 2022, we warned that some neighborhoods along East Link were squandering their TOD opportunities, but there are a few success stories, too, like Downtown Bellevue, our first installment. Let’s continue our journey along the 2 Line…

For the past decade, the Spring District master development plan has aimed to nurture the seeds of a new neighborhood around a light rail station. The planners’ hope had been to transform a car-oriented warehouse district southeast of the interchange of I-405 and SR 520 into a vibrant urban neighborhood and corporate campus. From Spring District Station, it’s hard to see all the fruits of that labor as of yet. So far, hundreds of homes and millions of square feet of office space have recently arrived to the south of the station — with more on the way.

A 140-unit senior housing facility sprouted on the other side of the Sound Transit Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF) East, but nothing else west of the station has gone in. However, the phased development near OMF East on Sound Transit’s surplus land is now seeing a hum of permit activity and Alexandria Real Estate is working on a phased development of its own.

On April 27, service will start on eight East Link stations. Line 2 is projected to see modest ridership until it extends to Seattle and on to Lynnwood, but it will serve as a solid starting point to begin attracting riders to light rail. (Sound Transit)

When we last covered the Spring District in 2022, Natalie Bicknell Argerious noted that isolation, retail vacancies, and expensive housing left the new neighborhood rather lifeless. Not much has changed since then. At least two new retail tenants have moved in, a café and Pilates studio, but no new housing or neighbors have quite set up shop yet.

A lonely and concrete-heavy Spring District. (The Urbanist)

With the 2 Line’s opening imminent, there are signs of life ahead, and it could be light rail’s arrival later this month that finally turns the tide and breathes life into a shiny complex of buildings intermixed with parking lots, warehouses, and not much street life. The light rail line itself will help bring in visitors, employees, students, and residents into the area.

A pedestrian pathway between the former REI building and Block 15 (The Urbanist)

However, the boost from light rail is being diluted and undermined by Bellevue’s failure to improve light rail access with improved bike and pedestrian facilities in the area — not to mention more housing opportunities. Reluctant to take any space from cars whatsoever, the City Council shelved most of a promising Bike Bellevue network planned to tie Downtown together with Wilburton, the Spring District, and BelRed. The remaining centerpiece of the plan, a newly created “Spring Boulevard” will not arrive until the 2030’s, leaving people walking, rolling, and biking with a lackluster and car-focused street environment until then. This is not as fertile of a soil for TOD as could have been provided.

Meanwhile, the Spring District’s developments continue, but several are delayed from their original timelines, and other projects are on the horizon.

The Spring District needs a bit more time to fully ripen

In December 2023, the Bellevue City Council voted on a negotiated extension of the 2009 Spring District Catalyst Project Development Agreement to extend the original 15 year agreement to 25 years. In return, the city will be able to collect larger fees than first negotiated starting 2027 when the agreement was originally going to end. The City will apply the fees it collects from developers for bonus development capacity to affordable housing projects or other public amenities elsewhere.

Some housing, such as Arras Apartments on the right, has arrived in the Spring District. (The Urbanist)

These 10 additional years will give master developer Wright Runstad time to develop what looks to be six more buildings in its 36-acre Spring District master plan and take into account the impact of work from home on office space needs. Projects in the plan started opening in 2016 with the residential midrises in the south of the master planned area. Year by year, developments moving north have started opening. These buildings have mostly been office buildings.

A rendering shows mid-rise office blocks dominating the trendy new Spring District. (NBBJ)

What’s left to develop include Block 15 and Block 4A south of the Spring District Light Rail station. Four more parcels in Spring District’s undeveloped section north of the light rail station also remain. Of these, only Block 15 has permits in for a 11-story, around 380,750 square foot office tower with 5,000 square feet for retail space and 1,070 parking stalls. Based on a 2017 Phasing Plan, a hotel, residential buildings, and commercial (office) buildings were planned for the rest of the blocks.

  • The phasing plan back in 2017 showing uses as well
  • The infrastructure phasing plan showing a different site plan than the 2017 plan

With the 10-year extension and an infrastructure phasing plan that has been altered since 2023, it’s possible that those plans could change, too. Downtown Bellevue has seen projects shift away from office and toward housing, perhaps something similar could happen in the Spring District. If nothing changes, the original vision builds out around 3.3 million square feet of commercial space and around 900 residential units. Based on its current trajectory, the Spring District master plan will likely produce more than 7,000 parking stalls.

The Spring District’s park and residential developments. (The Urbanist)

Neighbors to the west

The Spring District’s isolation will also be broken up by work near Sound Transit’s OMF East, to the northwest of the master planned core area. That project’s first phase, 234 affordable apartments across two buildings with 82 parking stalls, has recently seen a flurry of permit activity. The rest of the project has been planned to be market-rate housing, office, retail, and park space, totaling around 500 housing units, and over 400,000 square feet of office space between all phases. The surplus land TOD project first went to bid in 2019, but it’s been slow to come together. As permits have yet to drop for the other phases, perhaps a shift of uses here could also happen.

The TOD is for now grass and asphalt.
A large sign with the details of Phase 1 of the OMF development. (The Urbanist)

Directly west of the Spring District, Alexandria is cooking up its own master development plan, following in Wright Runstad’s footsteps. The life science focused developer is planning a campus in Bellevue with a mixed-use phased development at 1445 120th Ave NE. Alexandria also seems to have heeded the headwinds for large office development and shifted its focus to housing. Early plans saw the project construct three office/life science buildings and two residential buildings, but Bellevue is stating that the master plan will be two office buildings and four residential buildings in their latest Major Projects List for BelRed.

Phase one and two are planned to be residential, each constructing one residential building. A seven-story, 274-unit building with 217 parking stalls will be followed by a seven-story, 116-unit building with 89 parking stalls. Phase three would build out the two office/life science buildings, eight and nine stories with 916 parking spaces and 12,172 square feet of retail. As of March 2023, Puget Sound Business Journal reported that they would have around 458,000 square feet of office space between the two of them. No details on a fourth phase are yet available.

Alexandria's plan for their Bellevue life science campus, this one has 6 buildings and lots of greenery
Alexandria’s plan from Bellevue’s Major Projects List. (Courtesy of Alexandria)

Altogether these known developments in the Spring District would tally more than 2,000 residential units, over four million square feet of commercial space, and likely over 8,500 parking stalls, if all completed. For an area of the city previously solely characterized by light industrial development, this is a huge change and one that’s likely to accelerate. The area still has large swathes of land taken up by light industrial uses and low-rise commercial space. Plus, Bellevue’s preferred 20-year growth alternative, yet to be approved by City Council, would nearly double the housing capacity and more than double the jobs capacity in the Greater BelRed area, which includes the Spring District.

Correction: The original draft incorrectly referred to SR 520 as SR 522. We regret the error.

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The Urbanist staff occasionally teams up to cover breaking news or tackle large projects. See more about our team on the staff page.