Council tours center of dreams

City council members tour the site of what is considered the cornerstone of Bremerton’s redevelopment plans. - Photo by Jesse Beals
City council members tour the site of what is considered the cornerstone of Bremerton’s redevelopment plans.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

After months of planning, number crunching and finger crossing, the Bremerton City Council finally saw some of its work pay off Tuesday evening.

An hour before the sun went down, they slipped past the sign that said “Hard hat area, do not enter,” and walked the base floor of the Conference Center project with Bremerton’s Director of Economic Development, Gary Sexton.

Parts of the concrete had been poured that day.

Project manager Tim Rote played co-tour guide, and joked that instead of rolling out the red carpet for the council tour, he plopped down a bunch of wood planks for them to walk over.

“Actually this is more expensive than red carpet,” he said.

“It’s a lot bigger than I expected,” said District 8 Council Member Will Maupin, referring to the center foundation.

“It changes Bremerton’s image,” added District 9 Council Member Mike Short. “This is going to be a milestone for decades.”

Even though the conference center construction is one month ahead of schedule, the finger crossing still remains.

Because the city council approved a $11.9 million bond in January on the project, the city is now indebted approximately $650,000 annually for the next 25 years, according to Finance Director Michael Wilson.

The parking garage section of the conference center will be rented to the conference center attendees, Kitsap Transit and the public, and it will help pay back the lion’s share of the money owed.

Sexton estimated the garage revenue will be about $482,000 a year.

Another sum will be culled from downtown parking revenues, such as on-street parking fees, garages and fines. Parking revenues brought in $750,000 in 2002, according to Wilson.

Currently, the parking revenues go into the city’s general fund and are used to pay for things like street maintenance projects.

Taxpayers do not face a risk with this project, according to Sexton.

However, if the conference center does not pay for itself, money will be taken from at least some part of the city’s general fund.

“If the conference center is not doing well the rest of the downtown parking revenue will go to pay for it. Our streets will suffer. Hopefully that is not going to happen,” said District 5 Council Member Eric Younger.

According to City Administrator Kathy McCluskey, the money could be a cut in one area, like street maintanenance, or it could be applied across the board.

Currently, the general fund keeps police, fire and other services in business.

“The budget is pretty tight right now,” Younger said. Younger has asked a large share of the questions from the council regarding conference center funding. He is a forensic auditor for the U.S. Treasury Department, so he gets his share of practice at number crunching.

“As the city council, our number one goal is setting the budget. I have to be vocal. We have to look at the big picture.”

Besides the parking garage, the conference center is also expected to make money on other parts of its building, examples being the restaurant and hotel. According to Wilson, the restaurant brings in sales tax revenue to the city’s general fund, and the hotel brings in hotel/motel tax revenue.

Even though they must still wait in limbo, hoping for the best, the members of the Bremerton City Council were all smiles as they toured the concrete level of the structure and asked about construction techniques.

Rote explained how pipes were driven into the soil to stabilize a concrete retaining wall.

He said there were a total of 256 rebar-enforced piles that will hold up the three levels of parking and conference center structure.

Ed Rollman’s District 4 covers the downtown area where the conference center is being constructed. He was glad to have the opportunity to step inside the gate.

“It gives the council a good hard look, an update,” he said.

“I’ve taken pictures to keep up with the progress since the beginning,” he said. “I want to remember the tremendous success we have had with this revitalization.”

According to Rote, the project employs approximately 50 construction workers. During lunchbreaks, they can be seen milling about in and out of downtown businesses.

District 2 Council Member Cecil McConnell said the tour gave him a chance to gather information to hand back to his constituents. Occasionally, Bremerton residents ring him up and ask him for a progress report.

The project is set for completion in June of 2004. With 11 months remaining until the doors open, Sexton is still looking for a restaurant to fill next to the plaza section.

Meanwhile, the manager of the conference center, Columbia Hospitality of Seattle, is working to secure conventions so the center will be used upon its opening.

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