Norm McLoughlin

Bremerton Bringing in the Money for Revitalization

kitsapsun.com

Bremerton Bringing in the Money for Revitalization

BREMERTON

Public and private money has been pouring into downtown Bremerton for the past seven years to make it a "24-hour city."

But even though very little of the money is coming from the pockets of the city's residents, Bremerton and the rest of the county are benefitting.

"We had no money to do any of this," Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman said. "We basically have enough money to pay for current level of services."

Since the city's downtown revitalization plan was started in 2002, more than $390 million in public and private money has been invested in downtown Bremerton, according to a report issued by Mayor Cary Bozeman's office Thursday. About 59 percent comes from private sources, according to the mayor's office.

In an ironic twist, downtown's designation as a "blighted area" and its population of low-income families makes it eligible for federal and state grants and assistance. That money could help transform Bremerton from a working-class burg to a destination city.

And a March analysis commissioned by the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority found that from 2002 through 2012, $437.3 million will have been spent on Bremerton construction projects to breathe vigor into a city widely considered to have been on the verge of ghost town status, with about 52 percent coming from private investors.

And not only does that money lay the groundwork for a economic boom, the report concludes that tax revenue to the city and county will amount to $7.8 million and $1.8 million, respectively. Paychecks for workers involved in the construction are expected to total almost $162 million.

All that construction has drawn the interest of local and national publications, with Harborside Fountain Park gracing the cover of June's issue of Landscape Architecture. July's Seattle Magazine called Bremerton and its neighborhood of Manette one of three "best up-and-coming" neighborhoods in the central Puget Sound.

Even though the numbers are beyond comprehension for the average person, they may be low, said Bozeman and housing authority Deputy Executive Director Sarah Lee, noting that money to redevelop the Westpark housing project and state grants to spruce up city parks, among others, aren't included in either figure. Also not included are projects the city plans to build, but has yet to secure the dollars, such as extending the waterfront boardwalk to connect Evergreen-Rotary Park with the Bremerton Port District's recently completed Bremerton Marina.

But the money already received isn't the end.

The authority is waiting to hear the results of a second application for $80 million in federal tax breaks. Simultaneously, the city will be waiting to hear if it was accepted into a state program that allows it to keep a portion of taxes to pay for large construction projects downtown. And, on top of all that, Bremerton Housing Authority is vying for a federal grant to pay for redeveloping Westpark, but has already won a grant to give residents Section 8 vouchers so they can began moving away from the vintage housing project.

The housing authority report, written by Reed Hansen and published March 23, says the projects it lists are expected to be finished by 2012, including the $60 million Harborside Commons project at the old JC Penney building. Developer Ron Sher has made plans to bring a grocery store and apartments to the project, as a well as a bookstore and a fitness center.

There is no magic number of dollars spent that will turn Bremerton into its urban village vision, Lee said

"It all depends on what you spend the money on," Lee said. "Cities have done really stupid things, and haven't focused on key ingredients," she said, namely, focusing on bringing residents, employees and visitors into a small, concentrated area.

She said the Norm Dicks Government Center and the Kitsap Conference Center at Bremerton Harborside provide the "bookends" for development.

"Another key ingredient is belief," Lee said. "If you don't believe, then you're not willing to take the risk."

E.W. Scripps Co.
© 2007 Kitsap Sun