Bellevue Square is celebrating its 75th Anniversary since first opening in 1946. To commemorate this special milestone, we are looking back at the history of Bellevue Square and the Freeman family’s development and community involvement.
Kemper Freeman Sr. originally developed Bellevue Shopping Square (as it was first known) in 1945. He researched the area, meticulously evaluating the grocery stores, service stations, and other businesses in the region. After driving across the county, Freeman Sr. found shopping centers designed for new generations of shoppers.
Feeling inspired, he purchased the first 10-acre tract of land where Bellevue Square currently sits, from the Ditty family who purchased it in the late 20s. By the end of 1946, the Freeman family had brought 20 stores to Bellevue Shopping Square, years before Bellevue became a city.
The first business to open was the Bellevue theater “Bel-Vue Theatre” in the spring of 1946. Fredrick & Nelson’s first suburban department store was the lead anchor at opening. By 1966, Bellevue Square had grown to 45 stores. Nordstrom, a then local shoe store, added apparel and became the third major anchor in 1966.
In 1980, Kemper and his father broke ground on the redevelopment and expansion of Bellevue Square, bringing the outdoor community center to an indoor multi-level super regional shopping center, now more than one million square feet in size.
In 1985, Bellevue Square completed its expansion, including the addition of Bon Marche, to its already powerful anchored tenants like Nordstrom, JCPenney, and Fredrick & Nelson.
In 1986, construction began on Bellevue Place, adding office, hotel, shopping, and restaurant space to the downtown district, including the Hyatt Regency Bellevue hotel. It later opened in 1989.
In 1992, Fredrick & Nelson went into bankruptcy, and Kemper Freeman decided to take a risk on 175,000 square feet of space. He converted the anchor space into over 50 specialty stores.
The next evolution of Bellevue Square took it from a shopping center with interior facing retail, to a center with shops and restaurants featuring entrances from the street.
In 2001, Bellevue Square added 300,000 square feet and a lodge- inspired gathering space. Crate and Barrel, as well as restaurants, anchored this expansion. This was the precursor to the next development of Lincoln Square and the Bellevue Way Street, all connected by sky bridges.
In 2008, Bellevue Square underwent a 30+ million-dollar interior renovation to better meet customer’s evolving needs and expectations.
Bellevue Square is now home to over 200 contemporary, global and emerging brands. It is a part of The Bellevue Collection and is a major destination for local, regional and international guests. Starting with a focus on shopping and entertainment, the mixed-use development now includes retail, three luxury hotels, a restaurant and entertainment district, office space, and high-rise apartment living.
The Freeman family continues to look for ways to make the guest experience special and unique, meet the needs of the area, and contribute to the community in a meaningful way.