Longtime residents reflect on Woodinville’s growth

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman, News Writer

“This community has always been famous for its rolling hills, unspoiled pastoral scenes, fine wines, and beautiful flowers,” reads Woodinville’s Official Incorporation Decree, adopted by the City Council on March 15, 1993.

In the 20 years since becoming a city, Woodinville has grown slowly, but many say the city is best known for the same things now as it was then: Molbak’s Garden + Home and wineries. Both draw visitors from across the country.

Molbak’s is “a very good family business,” Jim Katica, Woodinville’s finance director, said. “They’re well-known. People come from all over the U.S. to see Molbak’s.”

While Molbak’s is known for being a one-of-a-kind tradition, the wine industry has grown steadily since Woodinville became a city.

“Slowly, every year, there were two or three more wineries in Woodinville,” said Jay Soloff, a co-founding partner of DeLille Cellars, which first crushed grapes in 1992 and sold its first wines in 1994. “It’s fabulous. It’s become a destination for people all over the country.”

Bob Betz, founder of Betz Family Winery, tells a similar story. He moved to Woodinville from Seattle in 1976 to work at Chateau Ste. Michelle, and opened his own winery in 1997. He remembers that when he moved to Woodinville, it had two pizza restaurants, gas stations, a cafe and a topless bar.

“Woodinville has grown up in so many right ways,” he said. “It’s become much more aware of itself.”
Betz credits Chateau Ste. Michelle with making Woodinville a wine destination for national and international visitors.

“In the late 90s, Woodinville achieved critical mass for its wine culture,” Betz said. “To have this concentration of winery activity, I could not have predicted with my crystal ball ... It was an avalanche.”

Now, “the wine culture has attracted secondary businesses,” he said, noting that Willows Lodge and the Herbfarm Restaurant also draw visitors to Woodinville.

The downtown Woodinville shopping center, which includes Target, Top Foods, Barnes & Noble, AMC Loews Cineplex, and a host of restaurants and other stores, is a prime example of Woodinville’s development. The shopping center was built in 1997 in an area that used to be farmland, said Katica, who began working for the city in 1993 as the city clerk and city treasurer.

Katica acknowledges “there was a little bit of angst” about the shopping center.

“One side said, ‘Let’s preserve the farmlands,’” he recalled. “The other said, ‘If we’re going to have businesses, these are the kinds of businesses we want.’”

Now, the shopping center brings more people into Woodinville, Katica said.

“I didn’t realize the impact that the shopping center would have for the city,” he said. “With the development of the TRF [shopping center], people started coming to town.”

The city also developed the downtown area, Katica said, by purchasing in 1994 the property that become Wilmot Gateway Park. In 1999, the city bought the Woodinville Sports Fields and Old Woodinville Schoolhouse. In 2001, Woodinville built its city hall.

Outside of Woodinville’s developing downtown lies another important part of the city, Katica said — the industrial district, which draws workers to Woodinville.

Precor, which makes cardio and strength fitness equipment, has both its corporate offices and five factories in Woodinville’s industrial district. The city’s website lists Precor as the largest employer as of 2007-2008, and Rob Martin, a senior marketing manager for Precor, says the company now has about 460 employees in Woodinville.

Precor began in founder David Smith’s garage on Mercer Island, then moved to Redmond, Bothell and finally Woodinville in 1989, which Martin said is “an ideal location for us.”

“We moved to Woodinville because we needed more space and flexibility to fit our growing operations,” Martin explained. “Woodinville was able to offer space that has expanded into what is now five buildings just northeast of downtown.”

So what’s next for Woodinville?

Don Brocha, who served on Woodinville’s city council for 17 years, including several stints as mayor and deputy mayor, said Woodinville’s growth has been slower than he would have expected in the 1990s. But he thinks that will change soon.

“The area’s going to start growing again,” Brocha said. “How do you take that growth and make sure Woodinville’s someplace you want to live, and want to come visit?”

Similarly, Soloff spoke of Woodinville finding a way to grow without losing what makes it unique. Although he welcomes more wineries to the area and hopes to see the Woodinville Village development built, he hopes the city won’t lose the natural environment that “tells you you’re not in Seattle, Bellevue or Kirkland.”

“One of the things that makes Woodinville really attractive is the agricultural land, and I hope that doesn’t go away,” he said.

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