Harborside condos set to make grand debut

The Bremerton Harborside Condominiums will make its public debut on Oct. 5 in downtown Bremerton. - Photo by Jesse Beals
The Bremerton Harborside Condominiums will make its public debut on Oct. 5 in downtown Bremerton.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

The Harborside Condominiums have already made their physical presence felt in downtown Bremerton, but on Oct. 5 they will make their official debut as part of the city’s ongoing revitalization.

The Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority will unveil the new residences to the public with a ceremony beginning at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 5.

“Celebrations like this are important to remember how far we’ve come, and how many people and organizations have helped get us here,” KCCHA executive director Norm McLaughlin said. “It’s easy to forget sometimes what life downtown used to be like, with all that’s happening in the Harborside District now.”

It wasn’t too long ago that many people believed that the Bremerton waterfront’s only real use was as a massive parking lot, McLaughlin said. “Today, people don’t give a second thought to high-end condos on the waterfront,” he said. “That’s why celebrations like this are important.”

The ceremony provides an opportunity to thank all of those who believed in the project from its inception and worked hard to make it a reality including the Kitsap County Commissioners, the City of Bremerton, the Bank of America and Kitsap Credit Union, Gary Tusberg and the rest of the KCCHA Urban Development team and the condo owners, who are the Bremerton urban pioneers, he said.

“The condos have been full functional for the residents for about a month now,” he said. “People are living there now and enjoying their beautiful new homes, and we’re able to let our new buyers move in immediately.”

Housing authority officials believe the condos will reach full capacity by the end of this year, or shortly thereafter,” he said.

“Our goals will be fulfilled as we, in partnership with the Port of Bremerton, the state of Washington, and the city of Bremerton, all work together complete the vision of the revitalized Bremerton Harborside,” he said.

When the project began one of the biggest challenges faced by the housing authority was the lack of precedent, he said.

“No one had ever built high-end condos on the Bremerton’s downtown waterfront,” he said. “Private developers couldn’t get financing for projects there because redeveloping Bremerton’s waterfront was seen as ‘too risky.’ No one had ever done it.”

That barrier was broken when Bank of America agreed to finance the project, he said.

“We’re proud to say the entire project is privately financed, and the condos are being bought be private owners,” he said. “As soon as 100 percent of the condos are sold, the property will go back on the tax rolls.”

It is interesting to note that shortly after the condos’ groundbreaking ceremony a private developer was finally able to get financing for a similar project, he said.

“We knew that we had really succeeded,” he added.

Although Seattle-based M.S. Cavoad was able to open the 400 Condominiums before the Harborside project was completed, the condos are one part of the larger Bremerton Harborside revitalization project, he said.

“To be a vibrant city, you three main ingredients -- residents, visitors, and employees,” he said. “The boardwalk, the Harborside Fountain Park, and the convention center bring visitors downtown; the Norm Dicks Government Center and all the businesses that followed bring employees here; and Harborside Condominiums has helped lead the way for other condos and apartments to bring residents downtown.”

In urban revitalization, the purpose of public investment is to create private investment, he said.

“Condominiums in particular are great signs of private investment – as people move to the Harborside area to experience all the convenience and vitality first-hand, the homes will return to the tax rolls and, in turn, continue to keep the city economically healthy,” he said. “Throughout, our core mission here is continued economic development and revitalization.”

It’s also exciting to have the condos opening while other projects, like the Port of Bremerton’s new marina, continue to progress, he said.

“Soon, for example, Harborside residents will be able to glance outside and see their boat in the new Bremerton Marina, an easy stroll from their home and the rest of the shops and restaurants in the Harborside District,” he said. “Friends can boat over from Seattle and visit for the weekend. It’s great to see the pieces fit together.”

The project presented numerous challenges for the housing authority, but it also provided invaluable lessons for the future, he said.

“With a project of this size, we had to come up with new methods of marketing and new methods of making sure the public stayed informed and involved in the process,” he said. “We will take these experiences forward with us as we move onto the next phase of redevelopment, on land adjacent to the Harborside Condominiums.”

“In marketing this new product in a revitalized town, we found, among other people, many long-time Kitsap residents who truly believed in downtown Bremerton and were willing to be the urban pioneers,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Another valuable lesson is the importance of local partners, he said.

“For example, because Kitsap Credit Union believes so much in downtown and in this project, they aren’t selling any of the Harborside Condo mortgages on a secondary market – they’re keeping them in their own portfolio,” he said. “This means that they can tailor the loans to local needs. For example, they are offering the same interest rates for these “jumbo” loans are they offer for their regular mortgages. This is unusual, especially when lots of national banks may not offer “jumbo” loans, or if they do, the interest rate may be higher.”

In addition to attracting statewide attention, the project has not gone unnoticed nationally as the state of California has expressed a particular interest in it, he said.

“California has been very interested in what we’re doing, and in fact, the California Redevelopment Association gave the Bremerton downtown renewal an Award of Excellence in 2006,” he said. “Bremerton redevelopment also caught the eye of people in Washington, D.C., and they gave us $40 million in special tax credits to lure more businesses downtown and keep Bremerton businesses from leaving.”

In many other states, community renewal agencies are separate entities that receive tax revenue to operate, he said.

“People in other states are often surprised that a housing authority is involved in downtown revitalization, especially when they learn that we don’t get money for operating expenses, and that most of our funding comes from the private sector,” McLaughlin said.

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