Popeye and Chief Seattle Challenge Bremerton’s Waterfront Development

Boardwalk and park projects are in jeopardy.

In September 2002, just as downtown Bremerton was showing signs of resurgence, David Rose and his wife, Mary-Jo, purchased a vacant former bowling alley with Popeye murals in the basement thought to have been drawn by Elzie Segar, the cartoon's original artist. When David first leaned against the old bar, it fell over. He tore it out, installed a new one, and turned the building into the South Pacific sports bar, located across the street from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the Bremerton Ferry Terminal. That's what downtown Bremerton used to be: a graveyard of neglected buildings in need of being rehabbed or torn down. And over the past six years, public agencies and private investors have been doing just that, attracting reputable chains like Starbucks, Anthony's Homeport, and Hampton Inn. The city also added Harborside Fountain Park—an amalgam of submarine-inspired fountains, trees, and sitting areas—to buffer the ferry terminal and shipyard. But the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority's publicly financed waterfront condominiums are only half-sold, many storefronts remain unoccupied, and longtime businesses like the 78-year-old Park Avenue Diner have recently called it quits. Nevertheless, to make way for a proposed boardwalk connecting the Fountain Park with new retail space, Gary Sexton, the city's director of economic development, wants to take a wrecking ball to the South Pacific and a strip of other buildings facing the ferry terminal. Sketches for the city's "First Street Plaza" show a new office and retail building in the bar's current location. If approved by the city council, the South Pacific will be condemned and the Roses paid market value for the building. This, naturally, is where the Roses take issue with the latest phase of the city's revitalization efforts. "We bought down here to be part of Bremerton, to help revitalize it," says Mary-Jo. "The downtown is starting to come alive. We're a part of that already, whether the city likes it or not." The Roses have accused Sexton of trying to strong-arm them into selling, saying he's told them "You can sell your building, or I am taking it." The Roses have consulted an attorney and are considering an appeal should the city council approve condemnation. (Sexton declined to comment on the Roses' allegation.) Another roadblock comes in the form of the Suquamish Tribe, which opposes a proposed 3,200-foot extension of the city's waterfront boardwalk, saying it would interfere with the tribe's fishing grounds. The tribe cites the Treaty of Point Elliot, signed in 1855 by Chief Seattle, as well as the 1974 Boldt decision, which gives Indian tribes the rights to half the harvestable salmon in the state. The tribe's objection could ultimately kill the project. "The current scope of the project is just too big," says tribal chairman Leonard Forsman. "We also have a right to protect the habitat that supports [the fish]. We have a responsibility to future generations to provide them with what our ancestors gave to us." Forsman says he's not sure how much fishing is done in the area in question, but says that if the tribe were to protect only the spots they currently fish, urbanizing the rest "would probably affect everything else. I don't want to get caught in that trap." Mayor Cary Bozeman claims the city has extensive data to back up its assertion that the project's environmental impact would be minimal, and says he's ready to negotiate with the tribe. "We think we're on the right side of this issue, and they don't agree with us," says Bozeman, who notes that the city has already raised $14 million of the $26 million required to complete the boardwalk expansion.

 
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