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Point A to Point B: How do we get there?

How do we revive Bremerton? How do we give Bremerton back its future?

These are questions community leaders have been asking themselves for years now, ever since the city began to decline a decade or so ago.

Most say the problem needs to be tackled on many fronts: government involvement, big retail, arts & entertainment venues, enhanced transit and better streets, annexation to enhance the tax base, general beautification, taking advantage of the waterfront, more people, neighborhood amenities ...

The Planner’s View

“One thing that’s come out of the regional planning process is the idea of developing ‘centers’ within the city,” said Bremerton’s Building & Planning chief, Chris Hugo.

Hugo cited examples in other cities, such as Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood or its University district, in which neighborhoods are like small towns within big cities.

“We could provide incentives for a mixture of businesses to locate in some of our neighborhoods,” said Hugo. “This would bring people back into the community and help neighborhoods grow.”

The city would revive piecemeal, he said. One neighborhood center already thriving is Manette.

“I was just there recently and couldn’t help but notice how nice the small business district is in Manette,” he said. “La Fermata (Italian restaurant), the art galleries, small stores.... This is what the heart of a successful neighborhood can be.”

Hugo said Bremerton neighborhoods he would like to focus on include the area surrounding the Perry Avenue Mall near Sheridan Street, Harrison Hospital, the old Charleston district, Evergreen Park, 15th Street and Callow Avenue, the planned Port Blakely residential/industrial project near Kitsap Lake, and the downtown core.

He said if the Port of Bremerton is successful in its plans to expand the marina — opening it up to larger boats and live-aboards — this would act like a new neighborhood in itself, and be a dramatic shot in the arm for the downtown core.

Bremerton’s old downtown and its marina have much more potential than similar areas in Port Orchard and Poulsbo, he said.

“We need to look at places that are underdeveloped,” he said. “Get a better mix of goods and services to attract a good mix of new residents — rather than lose people to the suburbs outside the city.”

Hugo said 60 to 80 percent of cities in Washington are now successfully pursuing the idea of developing centers. Spokane, where Hugo used to work as a planner, has about 15 neighborhood centers, he said.

In Bremerton, such centers would be smaller because the city is smaller. The centers would be about three blocks by six blocks, and linked by better transit services.

“If Bremerton embraces this idea, I think it could be one of the most dramatic things that could happen to the city,” he said.

The Mayor’s View

Mayor Lynn Horton sees redevelopment as a “which comes first, the chicken or the egg” dilemma.

She said the city needs decent housing to attract more businesses. New businesses won’t come to town unless their employees have places to live. On the other hand, new businesses and a thriving economy are needed before developers will build housing.

However, she feels that if the city continues to work at developing both residential and retail in a piecemeal fashion, eventually, “we’ll reach a critical mass” and things will take off.

“The Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority is in the process of purchasing waterfront for condos or apartments, with ground floor retail” downtown, she said.

Major issues facing the city include limited parking, persuading property owners to redevelop or sell to someone who will redevelop, and plans for a new government center and possible conference center-hotel complex.

She lauded the budding Arts District downtown; the fact that Albertsons is re-applying to locate in East Bremerton; the new retirement complex that has replaced Kona Village destroyed by fire three years ago; Save-on Drugs coming to Sixth and Naval downtown; the new indoor soccer facility being build at Pendergast park near the auto center; the upcoming grand opening of the new club house at the city’s Gold Mountain Golf Course.

On the very different topic of expanding city limits to gain tax revenue, Horton had this to say:

“Annexing the Highway 303 corridor north of the city is on the horizon,” she said. The only question is how far city limits will extend.

The Fred Meyer shopping center just across the street from city limits along Riddell Road; Safeway and Wal-Mart further out; the new Lowe’s location at 303 and Fuson Road; the newly built Walgreens Drugs; a host of smaller businesses, gas stations and small markets, the County Fairgrounds could all be annexed.

Horton said tax revenue from businesses would bring in huge amounts of badly needed cash to city coffers. Lowe’s alone could bring in $250,000 per year.

Wherever the new city limits are drawn, they should conform to some logical, geographical boundary, such as Barker Creek, she added.

The city will begin discussing annexation with the county soon, she said. Bremerton has already been discussing annexation issues with Port Orchard. Bremerton annexed a large block of land west of Port Orchard and south of Sinclair Inlet that will become the Northwest Corporate Campus, a major industrial park.

Hugo: “It’s close to starting. A lot of the infrastructure has been taken care of and they’re getting ready to submit their first building plan.”

He said the 188-acre Northwest site and another future industrial park site near the auto center in West Bremerton will bring a lot of jobs.

“The Seattle I-5 corridor is looking less and less attractive to new businesses” because of the cost of building there, said Hugo. Bremerton is just a short hop away by ferry and may be the new alternative for light industry.

Horton: “There’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s pretty exciting.”

The Chamber of Commerce View

The Chamber’s newly elected president, Clarke Whitney, is optimistic.

“In general, I’m pretty upbeat about Bremerton,” he said. “The worst is over. We’re on the upswing.”

He cited many positive things that have happened recently: The newly constructed Transportation Center, the ongoing Gateway Project to enhance the city’s southern entrance, the expansion of Evergreen Park at the north end of Park Avenue, the remodeled Fourth Street block between Washington and Pacific avenues.

“All these small steps will attract the private investor,” he said. “It’s like the stock market. You have to ask yourself ‘when do I invest?’ Now is the time to invest in Bremerton.... Eventually it’ll snowball.”

He said the chamber added 199 new members last year for a total of 600 members.

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