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Wednesday, July 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:33 A.M.

Eastside business notes
Redmond to see the Big Picture

By Kristina Shevory
Seattle Times Eastside business reporter

STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Mark and Katie Stern, owners of the Big Picture, an independent movie house and events center in Seattle, are opening a branch in Redmond Town Center.
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People don't usually say no to Kemper Freeman.

Eastside companies and city governments typically do whatever they can to smooth the path of Bellevue's largest developer. But not Mark and Katie Stern.

The owners of the Big Picture, an independent movie house and events center in Seattle, came close to signing a lease to open a second branch in Freeman's Bellevue Place — until Redmond Town Center came calling.

"We felt we couldn't go wrong in Bellevue, but Redmond really pursued us and made us feel welcome," said Mark Stern, Big Picture's co-founder and chief executive officer.

"At the end of the day, we asked ourselves which would be more successful and we said Redmond because it doesn't have the traffic congestion that Bellevue does."

Redmond Town Center is wooing new tenants in a bid to improve its tenant mix and cash in on the increased cachet (and foot traffic) the open-air mall has been enjoying since the new Bon-Macy's and Marriott hotel opened.

Management at the mall, which has a 97 percent occupancy rate, also wants to increase the amount of meeting space in Redmond.

"It is hard being in the shadows of Bellevue Square," said Kelley Gast, marketing manager at Redmond Town Center. "But with the addition of the Bon and the hotel, merchants are taking another look at Redmond Town Center."

Zales, Nextel, Wetzel's Pretzels and Piccolino Deli are some of the new tenants that have opened or plan to open at the center.

The Sterns are hoping their customers will check out the new location, too. Many of their largest clients come from the Eastside and frequently book meetings and DVD-viewing parties at their Belltown location. So when their 5,300-square-foot facility opens in Redmond in January, the Sterns are hoping they'll attract even more Eastside companies to their 150-seat movie theater and event center across the sky bridge from Bon-Macy's.

The Big Picture has become a hip magnet for parties, private functions and corporate events in Belltown because it feels more like an elegant members-only club than a movie theater or meeting hall.
 
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Plush, extra-wide rockers, ottomans in the front row, a full bar and an audio system on par with a recording studio are some of the features the Sterns plan to carry over to Redmond. Those perks, combined with meeting rooms outfitted in animal-print couches and club chairs, have helped them attract clients such as musician Dave Matthews and Microsoft — their biggest customer — to their hideaway at First Avenue and Wall Street in Seattle.

"Most meetings are uninspiring events in nondescript hotel ballrooms with rubber chicken served at a round table with terrible audio," said Mark Stern, who opened Big Picture five years ago. "We've made Big Picture a warm and inviting environment where you can have fun. You can't say that about many meeting and event centers."

The Sterns think more companies are looking for enjoyable meeting places in other cities besides Seattle and Redmond: The couple is negotiating a lease to open a 5,000-square-foot facility in Los Angeles.

For more information, visit www.thebigpicture.net

Finding your way

It's going to be easier to get around downtown Kirkland.

The city and the Kirkland Downtown on the Lake Association have been working on designs for "wayfinding" signs in downtown Kirkland to guide visitors to parking and cultural and local attractions in downtown Kirkland.

The signs are part of the city's downtown parking study aimed at improving parking management and increasing city revenue.

An open house will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. today at the Portsmith Condominiums conference room, 108 Second Ave. S. in Kirkland.

Eastside Business Notes appears every Wednesday in the Eastside edition of The Seattle Times.

Kristina Shevory: 206-464-2039 or kshevory@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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