Bremerton's waterfront. Image courtesy of the City of Bremerton.
Hours after Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman opened the Urban Waterfront Revitalization conference yesterday with the mayors of Sausalito, Calif., and Sidney, B.C., the city council was served a contentious portion of his downtown redevelopment plan by Redevelopment Projects Administrator Gary Sexton.
Bozeman and Co. want to condemn the first forty feet of a row of businesses (read: bars) on First Street, which all parties involved agree is tantamount to a death sentence for the old buildings and the businesses as they stand. The selling point of the project is to connect the end of the "necklace" of downtown's development, according to Sexton, which includes a new waterfront fountain park and a convention center. But, some council members are at least curious if the motivation behind the mayor's proposal is indeed based on the desire for a public plaza or if the administration just doesn't want the (and I'm calling a spade a spade here) dive bar, The Drift Inn, and blue-collar sports bar, The South Pacific, as the first thing visitors see when they step off the ferry.
"I think it is at least inferred that these places are not good looking or bad, because of the clientele," councilman Mike Shepherd said after the meeting. "I really have expressed concerns a couple times about the public necessity of this."When explaining how the plaza would connect the projects -- which will remain divided by streets and ferry traffic -- Sexton said after his presentation that people would feel more comfortable walking through a plaza with new buildings and business, than on the narrow sidewalk along First Street with the "swearing and smoking" in front of the current establishments. (Full disclosure: This reporter has smoked and swore in and around almost every bar in Bremerton.)
But, pushing the businesses back 40 feet to create a plaza and cafe seating, as Sexton proposed, wouldn't extinguish the smokes or marshal the language. Tearing down the entire buildings and bringing in new businesses -- the obvious motivation of this proposal, and one touched on at yesterday's meeting -- would.
It's hard to see how the current businesses and their clientele -- many employees of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard across the street -- are part of the mayor's vision for the city.
The council is scheduled to act on the proposal Wednesday at a public hearing.