Seattle Suburb Endures Growing Pains
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
The Internet giant Google may do business in the virtual world but it's altering a very real landscape - Seattle's so-called Eastside on the eastern flank of Lake Washington. That's a center for high-tech. Microsoft makes its home there, along with wireless companies and software developers and game studios, not to mention a sizeable presence from Yahoo and Google, which is expanding its Eastside presence, building a corporate campus in the city of Kirkland.
For many residents, this is a mixed blessing, as the one-time quiet bedroom community changes into a trendy urban village.
NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN: The challenges facing Dave Ramsay, the city manager of Kirkland, are challenges many city officials across the country can only dream of - how to manage a booming city economy and a downtown that's bustling with vitality.
Mr. DAVE RAMSAY (City Manager, Kirkland, Washington): You say what happened the last 10 years - all of these buildings, all have come in the last 10 years. And the amount of people living in our downtown is wonderful, but it's a whole new look and feel.
KAUFMAN: From the corner of Lake Street and Kirkland Avenue, we see tall new office buildings and condo developments, many with water views. At street level, there are restaurants, clubs and toney retail stores.
Professor RICHARD MORRILL (University of Washington): It's changed surprisingly fast, but eventually it had to happen.
KAUFMAN: Richard Morrill, an emeritus professor at the University of Washington, explains that the urbanization is in line with countywide development plans that aim to put more people and jobs in close in communities and leave more open space in outlying regions.
But the transformation of Kirkland is not without problems and concerns. With a beautiful lakefront location close to the university and Microsoft, Kirkland has long been a desirable place to live. And as more and more high-tech firms began to locate here, the cost of housing and commercial real estate has skyrocketed. The commercial district now caters primarily to those who are young, hip and affluent. Some longtime residents feel left out.
Ms. LUCIA HENDRY(ph): I'm getting to where I'm not very happy with it. Now all you see is condos, condos, condos.
KAUFMAN: Lucia Hendry and her husband hitchhiked to the Pacific Northwest and settled in Kirkland in 1942. She bemoans that the neighborhood department store, hardware store, even the drugstore have moved away.
Ms. HENDRY: All of that is gone. And people are starting to go out to the malls and doing their shopping. And they don't - well, there's nothing here in Kirkland to really shop.
KAUFMAN: A pricy pet boutique is of no use to her, nor are trendy women's stores, coffee houses and art galleries. And therein lies one of the biggest challenges for city manager Dave Ramsay.
Mr. RAMSAY: The first challenge is to grow gracefully.
KAUFMAN: But how do you do that, given the economic and political pressure to grow and to make the city hip and attractive to companies like Google? How do you ensure that the friendly small town atmosphere that helped make Kirkland so attractive in the first place remains?
(Soundbite of vehicle)
KAUFMAN: Driving up the hill from downtown toward Google's new corporate campus, the challenges stand in stark relief.
Ms. ELLEN MILLER-WOLFE (Economic Development Manager): Here you are seeing a lot of mega-house development. Okay. I think I'm going to come out where I want to come out here.
KAUFMAN: Ellen Miller-Wolfe is Kirkland's manager of economic development.
Ms. MILLER-WOLFE: So here it is. This will all be occupied by Google. Huge, huh?
KAUFMAN: The campus of two and three-story buildings now under construction is expected to house about seven or 800 Google employees. And the city hopes and expects that Google will continue to add to its Kirkland workforce. To accommodate that, the city would require still more new office space, and the urbanization of Kirkland would intensify.
One developer's solution calls for a quadrupling of the office space in a downtown complex, a development that would dwarf anything else in the city. While the project is highly controversial, it would provide badly needed underground parking, additional open space, and if the economics work out, longtime residents might get some of the little niceties they no longer have, like a drugstore.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.