Bellevue’s high-end development sold to NYC investors

An entrance handy to Neiman Marcus at The Shops at the Bravern features valet parking. Credit: Ronald Holden

It’s a 300,000-square-foot complex of restaurants, high-end boutiques like Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and the only Neiman Marcus in the Pacific Northwest. The developer, Schnitzer West, sent a team of architects to a dozen city center shopping plazas in Europe for inspiration in the design of an “upscale urban mall” concept. It’s glitzy shopping without any rough edges, and (unless you’re used to shopping in southern California or Arizona) it feels a bit artificial, a bit like Las Vegas.

Schnitzer has just sold The Shops at the Bravern to a buyer with a record of managing showcase properties around the country and will continue to manage the complex.

The Shops at the Bravern opened in September 2009, just off Interstate 405 in Bellevue, probably not the most opportune moment for a luxury retail development. The four residential towers were quickly converted from condos to rentals; Microsoft immediately filled of two them. But with Neiman as the anchor, the Jimmy Choos and Ferragamos lined up for space. Not all would be successful. The most notable failure was Terrance Brennan, who arrived from New York with his Artisanal Brasserie concept as well, built a handsome space on the mezzanine level for 300 diners and drinkers, and collapsed within nine months.

Occupancy rates were acceptable, around 85 percent, though that left a dozen or so storefronts empty. Still, Schnitzer West decided to sell off the retail development, and went looking for an investor with a national profile and experience managing a Neiman connection. That ruled out local, Carhartt-Pendleton-Eddie Bauer types.

Understandable. When I toured the Bravern three years ago, then-under construction, I was probably guilty of fashion provincialism myself: images of Cadillacs with steer-horn hood ornaments, women with beehive hair, men with giant belt buckles. But Dallas, after all, is home to the nation’s most prestigious department store with literally hundreds of elegant designers from Armani and Balenciaga to Versace and Zasha.

Two quick asides: high fashion, regardless of its cost, never seems to go out of fashion. Also: Seattle’s where Nordstrom started, and Nordstrom has plenty of designer labels, too, but lacks the ooh-la-la factor of Neiman’s.

The gent who brought Neimans to Seattle is its senior VP for properties and store development, Wayne Hussey, who toured the unfinished space in a well-cut dark blue suit by Zegna, wide-stripe light blue shirt, elegant rep tie (more blue), old-fashioned analog watch. No doubt he reports to an even more senior exec in Dallas, who reports to a chief exec and a board of directors. It was comforting to know that he prefers Jaeger LeCoultre to Rolex.

The assumption was that wealthy Eastside shoppers would flock to the Bravern, drawn by the elegant fashions, the easy access, valet parking, and the fact that it was clearly more upmarket than busy, bland Bellevue Square, all of three blocks to the west. The recession put a damper on those projections, to be sure, but Schnitzer says the Bravern’s chain stores are doing very well indeed compared to other markets.

The buyer is a private equity outfit in New York called Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. that manages showcase properties in New York (650 Madison Avenue), Boston (Faneuil Hall Marketplace), Chicago (700 North Michigan Avenue), and Washington, D.C. (Union Station). The sales price was $79 million, which works out to about $250 a square foot. That’s a premium number, but then rents in the Bravern are in the neighborhood of $50 a foot, so the price seems fair. Schnitzer VP Tom Woolworth called it “right in line” with expectations. And Schnitzer will continue its role as day-to-day manager of the properties.

One sad note regionally:The sale of the Shops at the Bravern hit the news the same day that Seattle’s iconic Smith Tower was sold at a bankruptcy auction. The 38-story, virtually empty “skyscraper” went for $37 million. 

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