Old Fire Station No. 1 set to become museum

After months of waiting, officials from the Fire Museum of the Northwest can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they will soon have a permanent place to house their artifacts.

“We need the opportunity to be able to show what we can do,” said Carole Heavener, board president for the museum. “We have the people that have the intelligence, the ability and the know-how to get the job done.”

For months, members of the Bremerton City Council have studied proposals from the museum group and investors seeking to create a restaurant/pub in old Fire Station No. 1 on Pacific Avenue.

The decision did not come easily for the Council as several members talked their way through the decision before the eagerly anticipating crowd in the first floor chambers at the Norm Dicks Government Center and television audience Wednesday night.

After about an hour of discussion, the Council voted 5-3, with Mike Short, Will Maupin and Wendy Priest opposing, to sell the New Deal era-built art-deco building to the museum’s partner, the Port of Bremerton, who plans to lease the space to the museum for three years at which time they are expected to buy it, otherwise the Port would sell the building to a retailer.

The likelihood of the museum’s failure appeared small Wednesday as firefighters from as close by as South Kitsap Fire & Rescue and as far as Portland spoke to the Council in support of a “unique opportunity.”

In the end, the Council chose between an opportunity it admitted would not likely be seen again for perhaps a century and an attractive restaurant of which the city’s downtown core is sorely lacking.

Would-be restaurant investor Elie Benaron of Los Angeles flew in for the meeting and told the Council the museum would have his blessing if selected but as a businessman, could not be sure if Bremerton needed another museum less than eight blocks from its Naval Museum.

Benaron even offered to purchase the building and give the museum a year of tenancy free to show it could be more viable than a restaurant.

Questioned about whether he would be open to seeking a place on the state historical register for the building, Benaron first appeared weary before saying he would consider it.

The historical designation “limits the use of the land forever,” said Benaron, but “I like the building. I think I’d like to preserve it.”

One neighbor of the old station spoke in favor of the station as a potentially “very good neighbor” while another shared his positive experience at a firehouse-turned-restaurant in Tacoma.

Councilman Mike Short regretted the proposals could not somehow be combined.

“The best of both worlds would be a combination,” Short said. “But I realize that’s unlikely to happen.”

The Council shared concern that the building maintains its art-deco character and considered making an application for historical designation a requirement of the buyer. A successful amendment to the sale motion allows the mayor to negotiate terms of sale but requires final approval from the Council before the sale will be finalized.

“That type of museum is rather unique in the Northwest,” said Councilman Brad Gehring. “I think another museum in Bremerton will add to what we’re trying to do downtown. I believe it will be very inclusive for families.”

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