In a 5-4 vote during last week’s study session, the Bremerton City Council voted to spend $79,000 with architects from Rice Fergus Miller to design an expanded Kitsap Conference Center and put together a bid package for that work.
The additional space will take up most of the third floor of Kitsap Transit’s headquarters building, allowing for more conferences and events adjacent to the existing facility.
Kitsap Transit has approved $200,000 to replace two elevators as part of the project and the city recently secured $400,000 from the Kitsap Public Facilities District to help offset expansion costs. The remaining $500,000 for the project will come from the city’s equipment rental and revolving fund, but officials say all of those costs will be recovered from increased revenue at the conference center upon completion of the expansion.
The biggest concerns about the project, though, revolve around moving forward despite the lack of signed lease for the expanded space between the city and Kitsap Transit, which owns the building.
The most vocal critic of the process has been Councilman Eric Younger, who described last week’s vote as a “Rolaids moment” because of the lack of a lease.
“From the onset, the negotiation of this lease should be the number one priority,” he said, noting that the third floor of the building has sat empty for 10 years.
“If things don’t pencil out, guess whose on the hook for the lease. In my opinion, I think it’s crucial to get the lease terms negotiated,” he added.
Younger also drew a comparison between expanding the conference center and work done at Gold Mountain, the city-owned golf course, in recent years.
“At the time none of us were here, but the city council thought, Well that’s going to be a very big success,” he said of the golf course. “And it was for a while and then we built the clubhouse and then the economy turned and less people were playing golf. Now we have the Gold Mountain Golf Course which has the potential to be a burden on our general fund.”
Younger said that if the conference center experiences similar troubles, its own revenues, like those at the golf course, won’t mitigate the costs of the expansion.
Councilman Nick Wofford also expressed concerns about the lease and the possibility that project costs could come in higher than anticipated following the design work.
“I’m all for this project, but the concern is the steps we’re taking,” he said. “For us to approve this $900,000 expenditure with no idea how much of it’s going to cost us let alone whether or not we’re going to go ahead and do it, I think is risky.”
Public Works Director Chal Martin acknowledged that the project does entail some risks.
“It is leaning forward,” he said. “There is some risk here, but it is a very necessary step.”
Martin also talked about selecting Rice Fergus Miller after informal conversations with them and two other firms because the local firm has the most familiarity with the project and is best suited to do the work.
“The city has complete authority to pick any consultant it wants to do this work,” he said. “We have the option to do that. There’s no competitive bid process for choosing a consultant; instead, the city has the authority to pick the consultant it considers most qualified.”
Younger, Wofford, Carol Arends and Leslie Daugs all voted against the measure.
Voting “yes” were council members Greg Wheeler, Faye Flemister, Adam Brockus, Wendy Priest and Jim McDonald.