Commercial Real Estate

Bremerton Scrapes Off Its Rust

By By Kim Sklar November 20, 2008

Stepping off the Bremerton ferry, one sees a paradoxical view of the town. To the right are fashionable waterfront condos and a polished, white marina. To the left are crumbling concrete naval shipyard buildings. And so the modern tale of Bremerton goes: From the rust of the almost-forgotten war town, Bremerton endeavors to modernize itself.

In the past six years, Bremerton has revamped its Harborside district with a conference center, marina, fountain park, city hall, hotel and three condos. Despite these upgrades, Bremertons economy still struggles.

It was Silverdale Mall that finally killed Bremerton, explains Cary Bozeman, the towns mayor. All retail income vanished. In the mid-1980s JCPenney became an unlit parking garage and the Sears storefront was boarded up. In addition, U.S. Navy housing deteriorated from years of renters. Many units built to accommodate Bremertons 80,000 residents during World War II today sit vacant; the citys population now stands at less than 35,000 residents.

Not surprisingly, private developers had little interest in Bremerton. Property values had been down for 25 years, Bozeman says. Bremerton had a bad reputation. It wasnt until last year, when the city completed the two Harborside Condominium buildings with the Kitsap County Housing Authority, that private interest materialized.

Today, outside developers like Bellevue-based Ron Sher have begun to take notice of Bremerton. Sher purchased the old JCPenney building in 2007 and plans to create a 200-unit apartment complex with retail businesses below. Karen True, a community outreach director working with Sher, says the project is focused on providing alternative housing and entertainment for Bremertons current residents.

So, how have Bremertonians been affected? Up until 2008, renovations increased the citys sales tax growth from 2 to 6 percent each year. But with the new Harborside condos ranging in price from $259,000 to $919,000, the typical Bremerton family, with an average income of $36,000 per year, may have trouble affording such housingespecially in todays tight credit market.

Our goal with those particular [condo] units was not just to attract local residents, but rather buyers from around the Puget Sound who work in Seattle but cant afford to live there anymore, Bozeman says.

To cater to a more diverse range of homebuyers, the Bremerton Housing Authority is renovating 82 acres of run-down Navy housing in the West Park neighborhood. The end result, scheduled for completion in 2013, will be a mixed-income zone that will help revive one of the citys largest low-income areas.

Despite these improvements, Bozeman cautions that the city wont be able to renovate every abandoned lot until other developers step in. I would rather do two special projects really well than do 10 mediocre projects, Bozeman adds. If we can clean out the decay and change the face of [downtown] Bremerton, then we can severely alter peoples opinion of our city.

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