Kemper Freeman Jr. already owned enough structural steel to finish Lincoln Square. All he needed was a touch of fleece. Kemper Development said it...

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Kemper Freeman Jr. already owned enough structural steel to finish Lincoln Square. All he needed was a touch of fleece.

Kemper Development said it would begin construction of its 28-story Lincoln Square office tower in Bellevue early next year after signing an agreement that would make Eddie Bauer its lead tenant.

The outdoor-apparel retailer agreed to occupy 200,000 square feet — or roughly 40 percent of the tower’s available space — to house its 600 corporate employees.

Neither party would disclose terms of the lease, which is still under negotiation. The tower has been tentatively named the “Eddie Bauer Building at Lincoln Square.”

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The longtime Northwest retailer began searching for a new headquarters last fall after former parent Spiegel sold its Redmond campus to Microsoft for $38 million. Eddie Bauer will lease the space back until it moves to Lincoln Square in mid-2007.

Lincoln Square, one of about five office projects being planned for downtown Bellevue, was widely expected to be the first to break ground — in part because Freeman already owned the structural steel.

Even so, Eddie Bauer’s announcement as its lead tenant was something of a surprise. The company had been heavily courted by several downtown Seattle landlords for existing vacant space that would have been cheaper.

“I’m kind of surprised to see them going to a brand-new high-rise and paying brand-new high-rise rental rates,” said Kip Spencer of Officespace.com. “They’re going to probably pay $10 more (per square foot).”

Eddie Bauer spokeswoman Lisa Erickson said the company looked for a location near a strong retail core so it could track customer shopping habits and new trends. Lincoln Square sits across from the Freeman-owned upscale shopping mall Bellevue Square on Bellevue Way.

“It’s critical to be in a place where people are living, working and playing,” she said. “This (retail) core provides us with all those things in one central location.”

The officer tower, slated to open in mid-2007, is the final piece of a 1.4-million-square-foot mixed-use development that will include luxury condos, a Westin hotel, entertainment and three floors of retail when complete.

The retail and hotel areas are scheduled to open in November, with luxury condos to follow early next year.

Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com