Given the long rainy seasons typical of the Puget Sound region, one would think that large indoor spaces for kids to explore musical and theatrical performing, gymnastics or simply jump around on a trampoline would be abundant.
However, local kid-friendly business owners have encountered a variety of issues in the quest for such spaces in Kirkland — from parking to safety to affordability to convenience.
“The biggest issue is that there really isn’t much warehouse space available in Kirkland,” said Kimberly Smothermon, owner of The Gymnastics Connection. “When we find space, parking is the biggest issue.”
“It’s clear to me that many of us (kid-friendly business owners) are in jeopardy,” said Sue Heale, executive director of the Kirkland Academy of Music and Performance (KAMP).
Last year, Heale relocated KAMP (formerly Kirkland Music Academy) from the Houghton area to Totem Lake, at 11961 124th Ave. N.E. The move was tied to a legal situation between Heale and her former landlord.
“The whole situation was really messy,” Heale said.
She struggled to find a new location in Kirkland before finding her current space in Totem Square.
“It was pretty hard to find a space,” Heale said, adding that she has had multiple issues since moving.
The relocation caused some students to stop coming to her academy, as their parents didn’t want to deal with the commute.
“Parents are so frustrated by traffic,” Heale said.
She said she is on a month-to-month lease and is fairly certain the property will be sold and redeveloped.
“At best, we have one more year in the complex,” she said.
Heale added that she is currently considering a move to Bellevue that could happen as soon as September.
She said she’s having issues with the property owners doing maintenance work on her current building and there have been safety concerns there as well.
“It’s been extremely hard on us,” Heale said. “One Friday, one of my teachers … found a man sleeping on a couch (inside the business) … and the only identification he had was a department of corrections ID card.”
They called the Kirkland Police Department, and Heale said she has noticed an increased police presence since that incident. However, she said families whose children are involved with KAMP and her teachers have expressed concerns about safety in the location.
“We’ve had families that have left because of safety concerns,” Heale said. “Teachers are fearful to be there by themselves.”
Kirkland and beyond
The problem of finding a kid-friendly, affordable, large indoor space isn’t just in Kirkland.
Before deciding to close SkyMania Trampolines this spring due to the building being torn down to make way for townhomes, owner Nancy Burritt considered relocating to Redmond. She estimated the move would’ve cost her $300,000, which is an amount of money most small business owners don’t have on hand.
Smothermon relocated The Gymnastics Connection to Kirkland in August 2014 from Woodinville after she lost her lease there. She had to relocate from her original location in Kirkland as the building is being torn down for a townhome development. She is now in a new location in Kirkland, at 11611 N.E. 116th St.
“We are now in another temporary location in Kirkland and are only month-to-month,” she said. “We are so thankful to have found this, as we thought we were going to have to close down.”
Both Heale and Smothermon expressed appreciation to the City of Kirkland for trying to help them find long-term locations.
“I want to stay in Kirkland, as we have loved this community and have felt a very warm welcome by families,” Smothermon said. “I even feel that the people down at (Kirkland City Hall) are fighting for us to find something that works.”
Heale expressed similar sentiments about the struggle to maintain Kirkland’s small-town feel in the midst of growth.
“There’s got to be a balance — right now, it’s out of whack,” she said. “My goal is to get the conversation going.”
As for a solution, Heale suggested the idea of the city getting involved in a project where they buy a property for use by kid-friendly businesses and lease out the space, in an effort to preserve the potential property from being redeveloped for other uses. On top of having the space, it would be ideal for parents to have a central location to drop off multiple kids who are interested in a variety of activities.
“The City of Kirkland needs to do something like this,” Heale said, using the former INS building in Seattle, which has been turned into a similar complex for arts-related businesses, as an example. “If (something like this) doesn’t happen, we’re all going to be gone.”