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Originally published August 20, 2012 at 4:22 PM | Page modified August 20, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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Lincoln Square expansion on again after four-year break

Kemper Development hopes to break ground on the big downtown Bellevue mixed-used project within a year.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Four years after it put the project on hold, Kemper Development is gearing up to at last break ground on its ambitious proposed expansion of Lincoln Square in downtown Bellevue.

The company recently applied for the first of several needed building permits, and hopes to start construction on the high-rise, mixed-use project in late spring or early summer next year, President Jim Melby said.

"We like what we're seeing," he said. "The office market is tightening. The hotel market feels good. And we've seen just an unbelievable run in terms of retail."

The expansion would include two 450-foot towers atop a three-story base containing more than 390,000 square feet of shops and restaurants.

One tower would have 200 condos or apartments and a 120-room luxury hotel. The other tower would have about 545,000 square feet of office space.

The project is expected to cost $850 million, said Melby.

The site is at the northeast corner of Bellevue Way Northeast and Northeast Fourth Street, south of Lincoln Square's first phase, completed in 2005, and across Bellevue Way from Kemper's Bellevue Square regional mall.

Melby wouldn't say if Kemper has signed an anchor tenant for the office tower, a step many real-estate observers say is a prerequisite for any new development.

"We don't want to announce any of that at this point," Melby said.

But tech companies are in a "recruiting battle" on the Eastside, he said. "They're trying to create the best environment they can for their employees, and we're trying to help."

When Kemper put the Lincoln Square expansion on hold in mid-2008, Chairman and CEO Kemper Freeman Jr. said one factor was a slowdown in the local condo market. That slowdown hit downtown Bellevue particularly hard: Hundreds of units completed in recent years remain unsold, and hundreds more have been converted to apartments.

Melby said Kemper had been looking at building the new Lincoln Square residential units as rental apartments.

But when the project received city design-review approval last year, he said, the company got about 30 unsolicited calls from prospective condo buyers seeking to reserve units.

"It was surprising to us to see that kind of demand," Melby said. "We're still going back and forth on apartments versus condos."

A former Safeway and furniture store would be demolished to make way for the expansion.

Eric Pryne: epryne@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2231.

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