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‘There’s no place like Bremerton ...’

Ron Sher speaks with city officials and community members at the Nov. 30, 2007 purchase agreement signing of the J.C. Penney building in downtown Bremerton. - Jesse Beals/file photo 2007
Ron Sher speaks with city officials and community members at the Nov. 30, 2007 purchase agreement signing of the J.C. Penney building in downtown Bremerton.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/file photo 2007

Bellevue developer Ron Sher has firm belief in city’s revitalization.

In the classic 1939 movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” an exhausted Dorothy clicks together the heels of her ruby red slippers and says, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

Now almost 70 years later, Ron Sher has no qualms saying, “There’s no place like Bremerton,” and that includes the star of eastern Puget Sound, Bellevue, where the developer took over a dying retail complex, the Crossroads Mall, in 1988 and transformed it into a destination place replete with everything from national chains to local entrepeneurs and even a farmer’s market.

“Bremerton has a long history and it’s kind of been boom or bust,” he said, noting that Bellevue was a new city without the links to generations gone by. “(Bremerton) has its opportunities and it has its challenges.”

When Sher purchased the iconic J.C Penney’s building at the intersection of Second Street and Pacific Avenue from the Bremer Trust in November 2007, he said it was a tremendous honor. He said it showed the trustees had enough faith in his ability to do what they could not in bringing the structure back to a new state of vibrancy. Which also worked in harmony with the renewed enthusiasm that reverberates from the upgraded Bremerton Marina to the Harborside Fountain Park down to the Norm Dicks Government Center, with the Harborside Condominiums and The 400 condominiums bringing residents back to the area.

Working with Mayor Cary Bozeman, the Bremerton City Council, the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, Congressman Norm Dicks, Belfair and the city’s entire leadership has been enjoyable, Sher said, adding that Bozeman is one of the reasons he became interested in Bremerton.

“They’re doing all the right things,” he said.

Bozeman, along with Chuck Henderson of the Henderson Group, were people Sher said he trusted enough to decide to check the city out and see what was happening.

“Chuck and I used to work together in Seattle and he came back here to take care of his parents,” Sher said of the friendship, which is now decades old.

Henderson, who has an office in the 245 Building on Fourth Street, which was one of Sher’s first purchases in the city, said he remembers graduating from Bremerton’s West High School in the late 1950s and having a strong desire to leave the city.

“It’s like you couldn’t leave fast enough, but after awhile you realize it wasn’t so bad,” Henderson said.

Beyond his own personal contacts in the city, Sher said he remembers Bremerton from his four years in the Navy, and that he has found that almost everyone he meets has a tie to Bremerton.

“Bill Gates Sr. (Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ father) and I talk about Bremerton all the time,” Sher said. “It’s rather unique.”

The rebirth of Bremerton hasn’t gone unnoticed throughout the state as Sher said there is a groundswell of support to see Bremerton live up to its potential.

“I don’t believe it’s if, it’s when,” he said. “However, we still have a long ways to go.”

The 245 Building, which was previously owned by Michael Lane, whose claim to fame was the construction of a space elevator, is an example of Sher’s commitment to building for the future, while appreciating and honoring the past.

“There were several years of deferred maintenance on that building and we’re getting caught up,” Sher said, noting that once the interior renovations are finished, artist Alan Poster will move his studio to one of the upper floors and a clearing house for all things Bremerton will be created.

One of those projects is the redevelopment of the J.C. Penney building, and Sher said the big picture for the building has already been formed, but there are some things which have to happen before actual construction can begin.

“The retail has to believe in the residential and it’s not there yet,” he said.

Once the conditions are right for construction to begin, Sher said the building will be a mix of retail shops, restaurants, a 20,000 square-foot grocery store, hopefully a hardware store and, of course, a Third Place Books, which Sher owns. Apartments will be built on top of the existing structure.

“Apartments are so much more affordable (than condos), so you can rent to shipyard workers, people working in Seattle, or people in the Navy,” he said. “Plus, in 20 or 30 years, Bremerton is going to be a huge city and you can’t redevelop it (the site) if you break it into 20 pieces.”

The apartment idea has received support from Capt. Brad Johanson, commander of the USS John C. Stennis, which is homeported in Bremerton, and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Executive Director Rick Tift among others, he said.

As with the Crossroads Mall, there will be an ample commons area to help foster a greater sense of community and also tie in with the Harborside Fountain Park and the Harborside Memorial Plaza, which will be directly across Pacific Avenue from the building.

For those worried about the complete destruction of the J.C. Penney building, which was last occupied by something other than cars in the early 1980s, Sher offered a simple reassurance.

“It will be totally different, but you’ll be able to see the bones of the building,” he said. “I wish I could give you a start date for construction but the timing isn’t right.”

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