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Development bubble bursting?
The coming departure of Harrison Medical Center from Bremerton is a pretty big blow to this community.
Looking at the decision from a logistical and economic standpoint, I can fully understand the reasoning behind the decision to move. At this point, Silverdale has opportunities and conditions to offer that Bremerton does not.
Silverdale is on an attractive roll when it comes to drawing in corporate development interest. It has fewer taxes. It has a cleaner and more professional bureaucratic system. A major move like this one that will turn Silverdale into the health care center of the county makes both practical and logistical sense. For Silverdale, it is a major win.
For Bremerton, it is a major loss and possibly even the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Bremerton has been able to hold the wolf at the door with incremental increases in the addition of small businesses or start-ups, the relocations and expansions of existing businesses and the inclusion of a few and far between regional or national chains like Winco and the coming Ace Hardware.
With the announcement from Harrison, Bremerton is quickly headed to a position where it cannot continue to support and pay for the collective public services it needs to improve, or already provides to residents, before there is a full failure.
It is a city that is riddled with an aging, poorly laid out and neglected infrastructure. Bremerton has a collection of public green spaces and water features that are well loved and well used. However, those green spaces and water features are increasingly expensive to maintain.
Grants can build them, but grants cannot maintain them and the money that the city has to allocate for these expenses continues to diminish. When these basic public services remain reliant upon a large portion of the population that is low to no income and the majority of businesses bringing in tax revenue remain small, the prospects for solutions are extremely limited.
It is time to take a really hard look at the department of community development. Not the code enforcement section which does a great job and has made improvements on blighted property crackdowns and other enforcement issues. I am talking about the community development portion. It’s time for some culture changes that will move Bremerton back onto the map of major development consideration.
Bremerton is un-developing and narrowing itself right out of contention in what is a very competitive market of community economic growth and improvement. Silverdale has found success in recent years and so has Gig Harbor. Bremerton has not.
It is time for Bremerton to become more aggressive, appealing and welcoming in its approach, its codes and its taxes when it comes to major retail and service development.
Necessary changes to the city code and policy will be decisions that the city council is going to have to deliberate and move forward on. The mayor and council are going to need to do so under the guiding hand of community development leadership that is not afraid to press forward on what needs to be done and will reveal the full ramifications of what will happen if a course adjustment is not implemented.
Leadership that is also not afraid to tighten up existing operational policy to ensure public works is concentrating on public works, ADA compliance and the future maintenance sustainability of new community spaces and not dabbling in various project changes that impact code compliance.
The mayor alone cannot fix what currently ails Bremerton economically and neither can the city council by itself. It is going to take an influx of practiced and proven contributions from someone who has been at the helm of or on the team of a city that has re-developed itself.
I encourage Mayor Patty Lent to explore the talent options available to facilitate a change in the way that Bremerton itself is conducting its own economic development business.
When something is so apparently not working, it is time to change it. Years worth of existing community development practices, attitudes and operations cannot continue if all that has been gained is the nearly dire position the city is in right now with the coming departure of a major employment anchor.