To see Kirkland's future, look beyond its beloved downtown. Look north to Juanita, east to Totem Lake and out to unincorporated neighborhoods...

To see Kirkland’s future, look beyond its beloved downtown.

Look north to Juanita, east to Totem Lake and out to unincorporated neighborhoods such as Finn Hill and Kingsgate. Step back and you’ll see that as Kirkland celebrates the heritage of its first 100 years, it is poised on the brink of transformation.

Peter Kirk may have envisioned the town he founded as the “Pittsburgh of the West,” but the city has taken giant leaps away from its industrial steel-mill roots. It has become known for its beautiful parks, sweeping views of Lake Washington, a quaint, boutique-lined downtown that hugs the waterfront, and a seemingly infinite love of the arts and culture.

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Now more sweeping change is on the way:

Twice the people: The city’s population will nearly double if it goes ahead with plans to annex unincorporated areas to the north.

Hearts and minds: The annexations would move the geographical heart of the city north, and maybe alter its character, too, as more people who spend their time and money in Kirkland actually live outside its traditional core.

Shopping and recreation: Other areas besides its downtown are emerging as important shopping and recreation destinations, including Totem Lake, Juanita Village and evolving Juanita Beach Park.

Says Kirkland Mayor Mary-Alyce Burleigh, “As we look toward the future, we have to see how … we can position ourselves to make the best possible use of our commercial areas.”

Here’s a close-up of what’s coming for the three major neighborhoods:

Totem Lake: Economic engine revives

NOW: If Kirkland’s heart is its downtown, its economic engine is the Totem Lake neighborhood. Totem Lake, in the northeast corner of the city, is Kirkland’s single largest generator of sales-tax revenues and jobs. It’s home to car dealerships, Evergreen Hospital Medical Center, a light industrial center that’s slowly converting to offices and high-tech businesses.

And one large white elephant: Totem Lake Mall.

WHAT’S NEXT: “We are going to see the most change in Totem Lake,” said Larry Springer, former Kirkland mayor and newly elected state representative. “This is the area of town ripe for redevelopment. We’re going to see the hospital expand, more car dealerships out there, the city is looking to annex there, and the mall … “

For years the mall has languished as owners changed and tenants left, many for newer shopping centers. Now a multimillion-dollar proposal to turn the aging mall into an urban retail and commercial center could spark its long-awaited revival.

Cleveland-based Developers Diversified Realty teamed up with New York-based Coventry Real Estate Advisors to buy the struggling mall for $37 million last year. Plans call for razing most of the existing mall to build an outdoor retail center, up to 200 condominiums or apartments, a 13-screen movie theater and 144,000 square feet of office space.

Construction could begin as early as next year, said Eric Shields, director of planning and community development.

Juanita community: Could be parks hub

NOW: Next week thousands of residents are expected to descend on Juanita Beach Park with potato salad and coleslaw for a Fourth of July community picnic — one of the first large community events the park has hosted in many decades. It will be a testament to the subtle but undeniable changes taking place there, residents say.

“This will be our first foray into a citywide festival,” said Marianna Hanefeld, board member, South Juanita Neighborhood Association. “Everyone is waiting to see how it goes.”

Across from the park is Juanita Village, a European-style development of apartments, retail shops and restaurants that was controversial before being built but now is beginning to thrive. Concerns that the additional residents would cause massive traffic jams have not materialized. The development is now home to more than 15 businesses and hundreds of residents.

“It has become a community gathering spot,” Hanefeld said. “I think this development is spurring on plans for Juanita Beach Park.”

NEXT: Grand plans are in the works for Juanita Beach Park, which the city took over from King County in 2002. One of the few sandy stretches on the east side of Lake Washington, the beach has been plagued by closures brought on by unhealthy levels of fecal coliform bacteria from goose droppings and poor water circulation.

Last year the city embarked on a series of community meetings to develop a new master plan for the park. So far, ideas include a skatepark, boat rentals and space to host community events.

What the community decides to do with the park may redefine it as a destination point for the city, Hanefeld said.

“People love this park and they have big opinions about what they want and don’t want here,” she said. “Juanita has the potential to be a bigger recreation area for the city. It has three of the largest parks in the park system. We could be the hub for parks and community services.”

Annexation Areas: Will increase Kirkland’s clout

NOW: Lynda Haneman loves to tell people why living in Kirkland is so great: The city has a beautiful downtown, it’s centrally located on the Eastside and is an easy commute to major employers like Microsoft.

But Haneman doesn’t technically live within the city’s boundaries. She resides in an unincorporated subdivision near Kingsgate.

Haneman is one of about 32,000 people living within the city’s growth-management area, a swath of land that includes unincorporated North Juanita, Finn Hill and Kingsgate that wraps around the city’s northeast boundaries.

WHAT’S NEXT: Kirkland and county officials have agreed the area should be annexed into the city within the next 10 years, a move that would swell the city’s current population of just over 46,000 to about 78,000.

Providing additional services for these new residents would be expensive, said Burleigh. The city projects a deficit of $3.5 million per year to provide services to all three areas. “The size alone will change the character of the city — it’s a tremendous job to assimilate that large a space,” she said.

But the annexations also bring advantages, she said. The larger a city is, the more regional clout and political influence it can exert. And many residents in the city’s outlying areas are looking forward to becoming Kirkland citizens, she said.

“We have a lot of requests from people that they would like to be part of the city and participate as a full-Kirkland citizen in Kirkland life,” Burleigh said.

Downtown Kirkland: Fiercely loved

NOW: Of all the city’s neighborhoods, residents seem most possessive of the downtown, with its concentration of public sculptures, art galleries and casual-but-upscale eateries. They’ve demanded to be heard when its future is concerned.

Late last year a proposal to build a large-scale development on city-owned land in the heart of downtown galvanized hundreds of residents on both sides of the debate. The City Council ultimately rejected the project.

WHAT’S NEXT: Several other private developments downtown are in the works, including two retail/condominium complexes and converting a former hardware store into office space. Such projects will eventually give downtown a denser, more urban feel, city officials said. But they don’t expect the character to change dramatically.

“We’d like to see development done in downtown,” said Jeff Leach, president of Citizens For a Vibrant Kirkland (CiViK),a group that fought the downtown project. “But we’d like to see the quaint, historic feel of the downtown preserved.”

CiViK, along with Kirkland Downtown on the Lake, the Chamber of Commerce and the city’s Downtown Action Team, hope to form a group that will look at how downtown will be shaped in the coming decades.

They may revisit some far-reaching earlier plans, such as creating a plaza that would connect downtown businesses with the waterfront by placing a giant, sloping concrete lid over an existing parking lot.

“We need to come together and form a consensus for what our vision of downtown Kirkland is in 20, 50, 100 years,” Leach said.

“We realize that we are at a turning point as a community.”

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637

What they’re saying…

“The evidence is already here: The geographical center of the city is going to change — it’s going to move north.”
Marianna Hanefeld

“We are going to see the most change in Totem Lake. This is the area of town ripe for redevelopment.”
Larry Springer