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Bremerton seeks state funds to transform downtown

Boardwalk, parking garage among potential projects.

While the landscape of downtown Bremerton has changed dramatically over the past decade, city officials have higher hopes for a completely transformed urban center, which could get a much-needed lift, if the city is successful in its pursuit of state funds.

The state Legislature recently made funding available to cities like Bremerton through the LIFT (Local Infrastructure Financing Tool) program, and as part of the application process, the city has to create a redevelopment area (RDA) and a list of projects which would be aided through the additional funding.

The Bremerton City Council will conduct a public hearing on the proposal at 5:30 p.m. June 4 in the Council chambers in the Norm Dicks Government Center.

“The city of Bremerton is well qualified to pursue this funding tool and would be remiss to not pursue it – given that we have several large projects yet to be completed as specified in our revitalization plan and the recently adopted downtown sub area plan for which funding is either not provided for yet (Pacific Avenue improvements and parking facility) – or insufficiently provided for (Boardwalk project) at this time,” said city financial services director Laura Lyon. “This is an opportunity for state contributions of up to $1 million per year for up to 25 years that can provide substantial funding for these proposed improvements.”

Time is of the essence, because the program currently doesn’t have funding past 2008, Lyon said.

“If Bremerton wants to pursue this state contribution, a competitive application must be submitted in this 2008 process,” she said. “For these reasons, staff is recommending that the city apply for LIFT funding approval.”

The boundaries of the proposed RDA are essentially the same as the boundaries of the recently adopted Downtown Sub Area Plan – with the exception that the portion of the sub area plan that specifies one and two family neighborhoods was not included, she said.

“They are not expected to have multifamily housing, commercial/retail development, or any of the proposed LIFT funded projects and therefore did not make sense to include,” she said. “Matching to our planning documents is important for purposes of the LIFT application – as we can draw a clear connection to the planning work the city has already done and adopted to our request for LIFT funding.”

That connection strengthens the city’s request for approval and meets the general expressed expectation of the LIFT legislation, she said.

Each project stands on its own with the LIFT contribution element included in the total mix of potential or verified resources, she said.

“The Boardwalk is anticipated to receive $5 million from LIFT, but will need additional revenues beyond that to complete the funding of this project,” she said. “The Pacific Avenue improvements are proposed to be funded 100 percent ($4 million) from LIFT.”

The parking garage facility is proposed to receive $8 million from LIFT with the remaining funds coming from the net revenues from the facilities after all operating costs are provided for, she said.

“If the additional funding for the Boardwalk project is not obtained, then this project would not be pursued until such time as the full funding package is solidified,” she said. “The city has up to five years to commence financing the LIFT eligible projects if approved.”

Along with the potential benefits of the program come some risks, Lyon acknowledged.

“The potential risks with this program are that (if approved) the funding is only provided to the extent the measurable revenues in the RDA grow compared to the base year (which would be 2009),” she said. “The mitigation for that risk is to wait until the revenue measurement process is through the first evaluation periods before proceeding to the final bond issue to fund the full programs or to only finance a small portion of the total projects early on and then conclude the financings when the full extent of revenue growth is understood and verified.”

To that end the city has had ECONorthwest prepare an economic analysis for the projects, she said. That economic analysis projects conservatively that revenues will grow in an amount that is considerably more than sufficient to cover the proposed state contribution.

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