The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 26, 2009

How Would You Redevelop Totem Lake Mall?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:03 am

Admittedly, along with just about everything else I’ve been doing around here, my ongoing malls project seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent months.  While part of this is just the fact that I’ve had other stuff going on lately, much of it has to do with the fact that there hasn’t really been much of anything to report here.  There’s actually been some remodeling that has recently commenced over at Factoria Mall, but it’s mostly just cosmetic upgrades to the mall interior, and the major redevelopment of the site which had previously been planned seems to have been put on indefinite hold.  There will be more on this at a later time.   Totem Lake Mall, the Seattle area’s poster child for empty malls,  remains just as empty as ever.  Itwas unofficially put up for sale by its owners back in March, and virtually all mention of the once pending redevelopment of the site has seemingly disappeared from DDR’s webpage on the mall.  Oddly enough, a shockingly generic but apparently official  website for the mall has appeared recently at (it seems that  whoever made the site couldn’t even be bothered to get the name correct) with a seemingly incomplete tenant directory (unless there have been some recent closures that I have missed,) some basic info and little else.

But let’s just forget about all that for a minute here.  At this point, it’s pretty clear that it’s unlikely that Totem Lake will be anything besides a mostly-empty mall for the forseeable future, but just out of curiousity, let’s say that somehow the forty million or so that the relative of some deposed Nigerian politician was promising actually happens to show up, and we were somehow able to purchase the Totem Lake Mall, and have enough left over to redevelop the place, even to the point of knocking it down completely and just starting over.  Basically, you can build whatever you want here (within reason and within some degree of financial constraint.)  There are a few things to keep in mind here for the purpose of this exercise:

  • It is highly unlikely that you will ever be able to get the zoning of the land changed.  Based on the previously approved redevelopment plans, it should be possible to put residential units into the property if you’d like, but I doubt you’d be able to just turn the whole thing into condos.  By the same token, there’s also no way in heck that the City of Kirkland is going to let you plop down a couple of 40-story highrises on this site either.  There will also be some environmental impact issues to consider with Totem Lake itself nearby, and you’ve also got the Evergreen Hospital on the other side of the property that would presumably be given some say on what could and couldn’t be done here.
  • Whatever ends up getting built here would need to be a commercially viable property.  Sunshine, rainbows and cute little puppies are always a nice thing, but you’ve got to have something there to pay the bills or you’re just going to end up with a slightly nicer looking dead mall 15 years down the road.
  • There are certain elements within the population of Kirkland that seem rather antagonistic when it comes to the subject of development within the city.  Granted, most of these people seem to be concentrated within the downtown area, but it’s likely you’d run into people opposing the whole thing on nothing more than general principle.  The redevelopment of Kirkland Parkplace, which had been scheduled to start earlier this year, has become mired in seemingly endless lawsuits and appeals, as have a number of projects in and near downtown Kirkland.
  • It’s up to you whether or not you want to leave the existing tenants in the northern part of the upper mall (Car Toys, Famous Footwear and Ross) in place and build around them (as the redevelopment proposals suggested) or if you’d like to just knock those down too and start with a clean slate.
  • The Chase (formerly WaMu) bank branch in the upper mall parking lot is not actually part of the mall property, and would most likely have to remain.
  • Although you could basically knock down everything else and start fresh, the street which divides the mall property (120th Avenue NE) will have to remain.

Aside from those constraints, you’ve basically got a blank slate to work with.  That said, the floor is open.  What would the readers of this Blog do to redevelop the Totem Lake Mall property if they were given the opportunity to do so?

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