The passage of Seattle’s Jump-Start income tax in July of 2020 spurred many businesses to consider a future outside the city limits. The rise in crime and visible homelessness coupled with the pandemic untethering workers from their offices further fueled the narrative of a dying Seattle.
Amazon’s September 2020 announcement, which added 10,000 jobs in Bellevue on top of the 15,000 already promised, cemented in many minds that Seattle’s decline was Bellevue’s opportunity. However, in the tale of these two cities, the “worst of times” for Seattle will not create the “best of times” for Bellevue.
Undeniably, Bellevue is experiencing a renaissance. With regional job targets projecting nearly 50% growth over the next two decades, more than 3.7 million square feet of office and commercial real estate currently under construction with another 4.6 million in the pipeline, and 12 new towers filling out our skyline with six more in the queue, Bellevue is evolving into a 24-hour city and a global economic player.
One of the secrets to Bellevue’s success has come from a unique place: City Hall. City government is viewed favorably in Bellevue, with 75% of residents satisfied with the city’s handling of critical issue and even two-thirds of voters supporting the city council itself. In one striking comparison, only 28% of Seattle residents believe their city is a good steward of its tax dollars while in Bellevue that number is more than 70%.
When you line up Seattle and Bellevue today, there’s no comparison. Not because one is so much better than the other, but because you’d be erroneously comparing these cities at two very different points in their development.
Seattle grew nearly 30% over the past 10 years, surpassing Boston, Denver and Washington, D.C., in population. Being a big city comes with big-city problems, and hopefully a willingness to learn big-city lessons. Seattle voters recently showed that they learned some of those lessons by electing Mayor Bruce Harrell, City Attorney Ann Davison and Councilmember Sara Nelson, three progressive but pragmatic leaders.
Bellevue is at the beginning of our journey, and many of the problems that plagued Seattle in its rise to prominence can easily cross a bridge. Bellevue voters recently reelected their city council by a wide margin, showing their desire to learn some of the lessons of Seattle without having to live through them.
But more lessons are coming, and some are already here.
Property in Bellevue is notoriously unaffordable for both residents and businesses — more so than even downtown Seattle. Policymakers have responded with wholesale reform of the city’s Multifamily Tax Exemption and are on the cusp of pivotal rezones that will unlock development for tens of thousands of housing units. The business community is doing its part, led by billions in funding for housing regionwide from Amazon and Microsoft, and a united effort to collaborate with city leaders to accelerate upzones.
Yet, even as the Eastside grows, we cannot ignore that Seattle remains an international brand for our region. A thriving Seattle is necessary to Bellevue’s continued success. Escaping the trope of “a tale of two cities” is the only way our region retains its reputation with a nod to another Dickens masterpiece, “Great Expectations.”