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Bremerton: the tale of two cities
Bremerton has arrived at a significant crossroads in its development identity. One direction under consideration includes improving property values by growing a taxpayer base with above average incomes.
This new tax base will either invest in making considerable improvements to existing properties to drive up their values, or will choose to purchase the increasing number of upscale mixed-use properties looking to be developed. This means chic condos and townhouses incorporated into buildings that will also house specialty retail, entertainments and services for those working, commuting and looking for the urban village living experience.
Those looking to live the urban lifestyle desire clean, safe, pretty streets and all of their entertainments and amenities within walking distance. This would include at a minimum a decent size grocery store and pharmacy just to start. Trader Joe’s, Barnes and Noble, Target, Walgreen’s are all names that get bandied about with glee when the imaginations of a vibrant downtown get rolling.
On the flip side, locations that have historically housed for profit businesses in the downtown Bremerton area are now being vacated by those businesses that supported the tax base and are instead being occupied by an increasing number of nonprofit social service providers whose activities do not contribute to the tax base but do draw considerably from it. Those in need of the increasing number of social services tend to gravitate towards living and spending time as close to the services as possible.
The available and surrounding housing, in an effort to remain affordable to these low or no income residents, tends to lack for any improvements that would increase the value and thus drive up the amount of rent charged. So, a significant number of properties remain rundown looking or are just outright neglected.
In the past couple of weeks, a few more improvements to the old J.C. Penny building have occurred. The plans for this building are impressive and if it does ever come to completion, it would be a considerable asset.
When this project was first acquired by Ron Sher on Nov. 30, 2007, I had a significant amount of faith that it would eventually see a certain amount of completion and or success. During that time, downtown Bremerton was gaining a few more services, entertainments and for profit investors.
It was ripe for that flagship, cornerstone piece that would set the tone and draw in increasing numbers of contributors that would add significantly to city revenue.
Today, looking at the growing number of downtown spaces filling up with organizations that require funding which draws from the tax system more than it will ever contribute, I see that flagship cornerstone development piece dying right before my very eyes.
One end of the spectrum will drive out the other end. Extremes of this magnitude cannot both be successful within as small of a space that makes up Downtown Bremerton.
If successful, higher priced, upscale, mixed use developments will drive up the prices so that surrounding housing and or services are no longer affordable to the low or no-income crowd. In addition the drive to “clean” up the area by upscale investors will force the social service crowd out.
On the flip side, the amount of social service providers and the cliental that is drawn in for their services, will keep existing properties and services cheap and or unappealing to those looking for that urban village lifestyle.
What major retail and/or entertainment establishments will want to locate to an environment that is surrounded by a tax base that cannot afford most of what they would have to offer? Not many.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against these nonprofits or the social services. However, as more arrive and or are established, they are and will continue to change all of Bremerton.
A diminishing tax base will mean diminishing roads, parks, services, schools and future developments.
So the question is will Bremerton become the low income, affordable, expanded social service supportive hub for all of Kitsap County?
Or will it become the urban village center with increasing revenues, development potential, a supportive tax base that can fully fund and expand community green spaces and improving city services?