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Bremerton deserves help

"A beautifully renovated downtown theater, on a street barren of passersby; the finest ferry terminal/transit hub on Puget Sound, surrounded by run-down housing, perpetually vacant commercial space and sprawling parking lots with water views.Only in Bremerton.Will it be ever thus? Perhaps not, we are told, if county commissioners give the OK to a new government center in the downtown core of Kitsap's largest city.The $35 million project (which would replace a vacant lot) would include a new city hall for Bremerton and much-needed space for several county departments, including planning, the auditor and the assessor. The facility would be funded through real estate excise tax revenues earmarked (by law) for capital projects. A larger plan, backed by private dollars, would see redevelopment of several nearby blocks over the next decade, with new apartments, condos, retail/office space and parks.Monday evening, Kitsap County commissioners Chris Endresen and Jan Angel held court at our own city hall, to find out what Bainbridge Islanders think. We can report that amongst those present, the support was consistent and strong, with heavy-hitters like economic development czar Zoltan Szigethy and architect/planner Peter O'Connor weighing in with their expertise. A few kibitzers from elsewhere in the county, who have been showing up at similar meetings to gripe, saw the numbers were against them and stayed in the woodwork.So what's in it for Bainbridge? A few folks admitted taking the parochial view that it would save drive-time to the courthouse for north-enders with business there. Others were wistful, recalling the vibrance of Bremerton's downtown before it was sapped of life by the Silverdale mall. Still others contend it could relieve regional growth pressure on the island; make Bremerton a more desirable place to live and work, and Bainbridge doesn't look quite so good by comparison. While commissioners have yet to take a formal vote - several economic studies are still under way - it looks like Endresen and Tim Botkin are pretty firmly in the project's corner.They stress that the goal isn't to spirit the county seat out of Port Orchard, but that wouldn't be bad idea, really. County government has too long been tucked away from the majority of Kitsap citizens, in an out-of-the-way hamlet on the far side of the Gorst armpit. Look at the census - our fastest growing area is unincorporated Silverdale, at 106 percent over the past decade; areas of North Kitsap aren't far behind. With a Bremerton civic center, commissioners have a chance to take government to the people, in a location both central and accessible.As to the moans coming from the south end of the county: Moving 250 jobs isn't going to save Bremerton by itself, but neither is it going to cripple Port Orchard; it's time the latter was weaned off the county government dole. And with their pitiable lack of support for their own school district, South Kitsap residents can't claim much civic pride or hope anyway. Conversely, a $35 million investment in a Bremerton government center could kick-start a new future for a long-dormant downtown district in one of West Sound's two gateway cities.Kitsap County needs that, and so does Bainbridge Island. "

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