A mad dash to the finish line is to be expected on any major construction project. But nobody expected the Bellevue Fire Department to show...

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A mad dash to the finish line is to be expected on any major construction project. But nobody expected the Bellevue Fire Department to show up Tuesday morning at Lincoln Square, hours before its sneak-preview opening.

“I was walking down a stairwell, and someone yelled evacuate the building,” said Matt Ellison, a foreman, surrounded by a pack of construction workers at the Starbucks across Bellevue Way Northeast from the construction site.

The coffee break was courtesy of a small fire in a loading dock. But crews lost more than an hour of work on the $500 million, mixed-use development across from Bellevue Square mall.

First proposed in 1989, Lincoln Square welcomes its first customers Saturday with the opening of two home-related retailers, The Container Store and Thomasville Home Furnishings.

The official opening is Tuesday at the complex’s Westin Hotel. Amid the flying dust and loud din of drilling, hammering and brazing, about the only hint that things were in the final stretch was a window cleaner harnessed 65 feet in the air above the indoor waterfall.

“This is pretty typical pace for the end of a job,” said Dave Harrison, vice president for Skanska, the project’s contractor. “It never looks like you’re done until you have to be.”

Skanska’s 400 employees and an equal number of subcontractors have been working double shifts, seven days a week for the past month.

Lincoln Square at a glance

Location: 604 Bellevue Way Northeast, at corner of Northeast Eighth Street, across from Bellevue Square and Bellevue Place

Developer: Kemper Development

Total cost of construction: $500 million

Tons of structural steel used during construction: 5,500 tons

Linear feet of glass: 5,000

Total size: 1.4 million square foot, mixed-use complex

Retail space: 310,000 square feet

Office space: 540,000 square feet on 27 floors

Condominiums: 148 luxury residences on top 23 floors of 42-story tower

Garage: Underground parking for 1,700 vehicles

Estimated employees: 2,500


• 65-foot-tall indoor waterfall in shopping atrium

• 16-screen luxury movie theater

• The Eastside’s tallest building

• 109-foot sky bridge


Source: Lincoln Square

One reason for the big push is The Container Store’s gala reception Thursday night. The event is part celebration of the Dallas chain’s first foray in Washington and a teaser glimpse of Lincoln Square for 1,400 invited guests.

“We’ve been targeting Bellevue for eight years,” said Valerie Richardson, vice president for real estate at The Container Store. “It’s one of the most affluent places in the country, with an intelligent consumer base that appreciate our products. We expect it to easily be among our top-five selling stores.”

The rest of the public will get its first view of the shopping complex Saturday, although the other 11 stores will stagger their openings through the holiday season. The 1.4-million-square-foot complex won’t be complete until mid-2007 when the 27-floor office tower is scheduled to open.

“Outside things do seem to be moving pretty slowly,” said Tory Bartee, Maggiano’s Little Italy general manager, who received the keys to the upscale Italian eatery from the construction firm Monday. “But all I can worry about is what happens inside my four walls.”

Completion of Lincoln Square has been a long time coming. The project has suffered a fit of work stoppages and several ownership changes since proposed by Ditty Properties’ Kirk Mathewson in 1989.

Current developer Kemper Freeman Jr., who also owns Bellevue Square and Bellevue Place, took over construction in 2003, when he acquired the property, hard-hit by Bellevue’s tech slump, from then-owner Lend Lease of Atlanta for $40 million.

Lincoln Square’s debut is being heralded by Bellevue as a sign of its arrival in the urban big leagues.

“It really vaults Bellevue into a new level,” says Leslie Lloyd, president of the Bellevue Downtown Association. “It makes downtown a 24-hour destination with a balanced mix of residential living, entertainment, shopping and dining.”

Josh Goodman: 206-464-3347 or jgoodman@seattletimes.com