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Originally published March 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 11, 2008 at 1:39 AM

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Downtown Bellevue condos beckon to younger crowd

When downtown Bellevue living started to take off several years ago, typical buyers of the glitzy new condos were aging baby boomers looking...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

When downtown Bellevue living started to take off several years ago, typical buyers of the glitzy new condos were aging baby boomers looking for a second home or to downsize after the kids moved out.

But over the next few years, the city's new restaurants and nightspots will be serving an increasingly younger crowd as a different downtown demographic takes hold. The fastest-growing group of people moving to the neighborhood is made up of professionals in their 20s and 30s, many of them working for high-tech companies, developers say.

Most of those migrating to downtown Bellevue already live on the Eastside and are eager to take advantage of a new concept: urban living on the east side of Lake Washington. Often, they're moving closer to work, sometimes just blocks away; the relatively low crime rate and growing number of bars and nightclubs are lures, too.

"It's got a lot more crowded," said William Chen, 32, who works at Microsoft's new Lincoln Square office and lives in a downtown apartment. "But crowded in a good way."

The youthful migration shows no signs of letting up, according to developers and city officials. Yahoo and Expedia are set to open downtown Bellevue offices this year, and Microsoft plans to move 1,850 more employees downtown by early next year.

Along with several office buildings, about 3,200 apartments or condominiums are under construction, and an additional 2,000 are in the pipeline. The number of downtown residents is expected to nearly double in the next two years, from 5,000 to 9,800, and to shoot up to 14,000 by 2020.

It's quite a change from when the city incorporated in the early 1950s. For decades, the area that's now downtown was filled with farmland and single-family homes. Then in the 1990s, condo and apartment complexes started rising.

Many of the people moving in since have been middle-aged or senior citizens. But with so many tech jobs being created, the number of young professionals downtown will continue to rise, said Diana Canzoneri, the city's lead demographer.

The younger arrivals often are renting apartments or buying more modest condos than the multimillion-dollar units their older neighbors buy.

Occasionally, developers see young singles from foreign countries buy higher-end condos, presumably with help from families back home.

"It's not uncommon to see a 28-year-old tech worker in a $1 million condo," said Dean Jones, president of Realogics, a Seattle company that markets several Bellevue residential projects.

Downtown: "clean slate"

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Michael Brandt, 24, bought a $566,000 condo at Bellevue Towers, a 540-unit development under construction on 106th Avenue Northeast. Brandt says his present town house in Eastgate is farther from his job at Eddie Bauer downtown and relatively isolated from nightlife.

The development company for Bellevue Towers, Gerding Edlen, hosted parties on the construction site that helped residents get to know each other months before they start to move in, Brandt said.

Downtown Bellevue is a "clean slate," Brandt said, where new residents are taking part in forming a new community. "There's a real sense of ownership," he said. "You really feel like you get to build the place."

The apartment market is particularly strong for young professionals, many of whom may have just started new jobs or moved to the area and aren't ready to buy, developers say.

At Avalon Meydenbauer, a 368-apartment complex under construction, rent for studios starts at $1,125 and rent for three-bedroom units approaches $3,000. The new tenants could afford to pay the mortgage on a condo if they wanted, said Brian Fritz, a vice president of AvalonBay Communities.

Andrew Caulfield, 26, moved into a $1,054-a-month studio at the 989 Elements high-rise last spring, in part to be closer to downtown amenities. He's found a lot of residents his age and takes advantage of dinner-and-movie nights in the building.

"I've made some lifelong friends," Caulfield said. "That's something I didn't have when I lived in Bothell."

While some young professionals said Bellevue's improved bar and restaurant scene is a draw, others said the nightlife is still no match for Seattle's.

"It's not the ideal social scene for someone my age," said George Yong, 22, who moved downtown earlier this year. "But for work purposes, it's perfect. I can't complain."

High prices

For all its perks, downtown Bellevue living may never be an option for everyone. Rents start in the four figures for new buildings, and new condos start at $300,000 and go as high as $6 million.

Affordable-housing advocates say units are sorely needed for employees without high salaries, such as teachers and retail workers, especially since much of the city's growth is being funneled downtown.

The City Council is reviewing the city's housing policies this year, to see whether affordable housing should be required in some neighborhoods, rather than just encouraged.

Downtown is probably not a candidate, officials say, but the council is planning affordable housing east of downtown, in the "Auto Row" area and the Bel-Red Corridor.

Tanya Elder, 33, moved downtown with her husband a year and a half ago to be closer to work and is already hoping the neighborhood doesn't get too popular. The cleanliness and low crime rate are rarities, she said.

"Don't let people move downtown," she said. "I don't want it to turn bad."

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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