For some time now, there have been various rumors floating around that Bungie, creators of the popular Halo series of games, has been contemplating a move from their current offices in downtown Kirkland to a new location in downtown Bellevue. Those rumors have now officially been confirmed, albeit in somewhat surprising fashion. Instead of the conventional office space that one might expect such a company to reside in, it turns out that Bungie will actually be making their new home at the Bellevue Galleria of all places, in the space which formerly housed an 11-screen cinema that closed down about a year ago. For a company that tends to be somewhat secretive (even when they were under Microsoft, access to their current headquarters in an unmarked former hardware store in Kirkland was unusually restricted,) a space like this within a shopping center seems like a bit of an odd choice, but given the company’s preference for an open plan office, the spacious interior of the former movie theater provides the type of space they would be unlikely to find available anywhere else in Bellevue.
At the same time, this move also serves to fill at least some of the vacancies in the Bellevue Galleria, a moderately sized urban entertainment and shopping complex in the heart of downtown Bellevue which has so far largely failed to live up to its potential in spite of its location. Unlike most of the shopping centers that I have profiled on this Blog so far, I have actually been around here long enough to see the Bellevue Galleria for pretty much its entire history, although for much of that time there hasn’t been a whole lot to see here. With the nice weather on Monday, I did take the opportunity to wander over to the Galleria while I was in Bellevue to take some pictures and put together a brief profile of the complex, which you will find after the jump.
When the Galleria opened in 1999, it was intended as a shopping, restaurant and entertainment destination, with an 11 screen cinema, a number of restaurants which included a Rock Bottom Brewery (which is still in business, as you can see here) and a Hooters, and a large Tower Records and Books store that served as the center’s nominal anchor. In addition to these, other attractions included a video arcade known as The Garage (a place somewhat reminiscent of a Gameworks, which included a Taco Del Mar inside,) a Ben and Jerry’s scoop shop, a Gene Juarez salon (also still present) and several other retail shops. Unfortunately, trouble at the Galleria began shortly after it opened when The Garage closed roughly eighteen months after it opened, taking the Ben and Jerry’s with it and leaving a large vacancy that has been unfilled for many years in the second level. Eventually the Tower Records store closed down when the chain went bankrupt in 2004, and the Hooters and some of the other restaurants (whose names escape me currently) closed down as well. Eventually the Tower Records store (and the former Hooters space above it) were taken over by a large LA Fitness health club, and the other restaurant spaces also found new occupants in Yama Japanese Cuisine on the upper level, and the Taphouse Grill (a bar and grill featuing 160 different beers on tap) at street level. Meanwhile, a Men’s Wearhouse store at the street level has also remained in operation since it opened at roughly the same time as the Galleria itself. The Bellevue Galleria Cinemas closed in April of 2008, presumably as a result of competition from the Lincoln Square Cinemas a couple of blocks away in the Bellevue Collection.
The Galleria is located along a pedestrian corridor that runs through the center of downtown Bellevue, starting at Bellevue Square in front of the Macy’s store, and ending at the entrance to Meydenbauer Center roughly eight blocks away, passing by Lincoln Square, the Galleria and the Bellevue Transit Center along the way. At the front of the Galleria is this courtyard, complete with a fountain (which wasn’t operating at the time I took this) and several sets of stairs which lead up to the Galleria itself. Next door to the Galleria is a building which has seen a number of different tenants over the years, including The Good Guys and Underhill’s Furniture, but currently appears to be vacant. a large Barnes and Noble Bookstore is found just beyond that, in a building that once housed a bowling alley.
Along 106th Avenue NE, signs for a number of the Galleria’s current tenants can be found. The Men’s Wearhouse store is located in the back of this photo, although no signs are visible. You can also see see a sign pointing to the Galleria’s parking garage, located in the back of the property.
Cafe Habits, a small espresso stand and cafe associated with the Galleria’s Habits for the Home store, is also found in the courtyard, and has also been here for the Galleria’s entire existence to date.
These signs were originally used to list the films being shown at the theater, but seem to have been co-opted by the Rock Bottom Brewery when the theater closed down. I’m not sure what’s going on with that last sign though; either they ran out of specials to put up there, or they’ve got Homer Simpson putting up their signs.
Behind these signs, sets of escalators and stairs lead up to the second and third levels.
On the second level, Habits for the Home (a furniture store with a couple of other locations in Seattle) takes up most of the space that wasn’t originally part of the Tower Records store. The signs on the windows talking about the “All new outlet store” here don’t seem to exactly inspire confidence in their long-term prospects here though…
The rest of the space on the second level is vacant, and has in fact been vacant ever since The Garage closed down (in either 2000 or 2001, I don’t remember exactly when this happened.) There is also some space on this level which, as far as I am aware, has never actually been occupied. There has been some recent activity here though, and the space on the left of this photo seems to be relatively new construction. It is possible that this could in fact be part of the future Bungie space, but I can’t be entirely certain of this.
On the third level, the LA Fitness health club occupies the space that was once the Galleria’s Hooters restaurant, making them the only tenant of the Galleria to have space on every level. The former Tower Records and Books store that originally occupied the Galleria was located below this on two different levels (although there was a significant amount of open space between the two levels.)
Most of the remaining space in the third level was occupied by the theater, and will be the space that Bungie is planning to move into. It appears that the entire space has been completely cleared out, and taking a quick look inside (there is no covering on the windows currently) shows a large empty space, with a spiral staircase leading up to a loft area. Other than that, nothing is here yet.
Outside of this space, you can see the footprint on the concrete of what used to be the ticket booth, removed shortly after the theaters closed down.
Finally, filling out the remainder ofthe upper level is Yama, a restaurant serving high-end Asian cuisine with entrees such as Kobe Beef and Japanese Lobster Tails going for as much as $95 (although most of the menu is priced somewhat within reason, at least by Bellevue standards.) Another set of stairs leads back down to the ground level at the pedestrian corridor.
To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the Galleria over the years, mostly because there hasn’t been much reason for me to go there since The Garage closed, and aside from the rare visit to one of the restaurants (Taphouse Grill has some really good steaks, although they’re anything but cheap) I can’t really think of much reason to go there now. Although it is tempting to conclude that the Galleria has largely been upstaged by the larger and flashier Lincoln Square a few blocks away (featuring a 16-screen cinema which now includes an IMAX theater, an upscale bowling alley and a number of high-end restaurants and merchants,) in reality the decline of the Galleria began long before Lincoln Square even opened its doors. Bringing in Bungie to fill up the vacant spaces in the Galleria will definitely help out the bottom line here, but it doesn’t exactly do much to make the Galleria more attractive to shoppers and diners. On the other hand, the Galleria might actually make for a pretty cool Halo 3 multiplayer map if someone wanted to try it out…