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Governance center slowed down
"Port Orchard and Bremerton residents, business owners and government officials met Wednesday at Port Orchard City Hall for the first forum intended to gather public input on the proposed governance center.Residents of both cities turned out to voice their views at the Feb. 21 Town Hall meeting, which was a joint production of the Port Orchard City Council and the Kitsap County Commissioners.Following public comments, which raised concerns ranging from increased traffic congestion and parking to the legality of moving the county seat, commissioners agreed the best course of action might be to slow down, though Commissioner Tim Botkin said he's not yet ready to stop.I still think this is a good idea, but I'm willing to work with Port Orchard, he said. People have raised enough points that, at the least, information needs to go out to a broader audience to get their points answered.Port Orchard Mayor Jay Weatherill said the county's commitment to slowing down is a step in the right direction. It's going to take some time, he said. We don't have our study back. There wasn't really any definite answers, other than that we need to have other meetings. Like I said, the public process is important with a project of this magnitude.It's all going to work out if we keep talking, he said.County officials maintain the proposed government center could provide an economic boost to the whole region by giving downtown Bremerton - the county's only urban core with existing infrastructure - a shot in the arm.If the proposed governance center were built, the 140,000-square-foot building would house workers from the city of Bremerton, Kitsap County and the state and federal government. The project is expected to cost between $28 million and $33 million.As part of the revitalization project, the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority would provide for mixed, multi-use housing in areas surrounding the governance center, with a range of low income to luxury condominiums.Zoltan Szigethy, executive director of the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council, told city and county officials that Bremerton's lifeless, dilapidated image reflects on the whole county and discourages entrepreneurs from locating in Kitsap.Frankly, one of our front doors is Bremerton, and, if Bremerton doesn't give the appearance, no less the fact, of being a place where something can be done, entrepreneurs will go elsewhere, he said.Tim Arnold, lifelong Bremerton resident and the owner of a real estate company there, agreed. Bremerton is the piston in the engine of our economies, he said. That piston isn't firing at all. I know. I live in it, I work in it. (The governance center) is not the catalyst that will make it happen, but it's a part, he said. But Port Orchard resident and Harborside Grill owner Ron Rider said Bremerton's negative impact on the county is dubious. There's an insinuation that Bremerton is the reason there's no one coming into the county, but I think it's because it took so long to get our comprehensive plan approved. Now that the comprehensive plan's been approved, there are all these projects going on, he said.Of the multifarious concerns expressed to commissioners, the one shared by Bremerton and Port Orchard residents alike was the potential traffic congestion moving about 250 county employees might create.Some Bremerton residents said it's already hard enough driving through downtown Bremerton when the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard lets out and downtown workers leave the parking lot in the old JC Penney building. Commuters using downtown to access the Bremerton Transportation Center for ferry trips exacerbate existing downtown congestion.Driving through Gorst is its own special kind of nightmare, some said.Laura Lee Hanson, an East Bremerton resident, said Bremerton already holds a reputation as the parking lot of Kitsap County. Some people think Bremerton is really sick and needs something to cure it. But some of us don't think Bremerton is sick. And adding more people won't make it better, she said.Several Port Orchard residents said they want to see more information on the legalities surrounding moving the county seat. That's the law you're talking about, Weatherill said. They're not going to be able do anything if the proposed move constitutes a move of the county seat.Beth Cattrall, a Port Orchard resident, said she is not in favor of the proposed move because the county seat has been in Port Orchard since 1892. The worst issue is moving the county seat without an election. You're going to have a fight. You're going to have a big fight, she said.Lois McMahan, an Olalla resident and former state representative for District 26, agreed. I didn't intend to say anything, but I think there are a couple false ... premises being used to base the move on, she said. This is the county seat and the people should be consulted. This is still a government of the people, by the people and for the people.Several people pointed out there could be inefficiencies created by splitting up county government and moving offices to Bremerton.Phil McCormick, owner of Rewind Coffee and Music on Bay Street and president of the Bay Street Merchants' Association, suggested if the county moved 248 jobs to Bremerton, the rest wouldn't be far behind as future county workers discovered difficulties in communication and inefficiencies.Some at the forum argued that Bremerton has made its economic bed, and in it, Bremerton should lie. It isn't the county's problem that there is in-fighting in Bremerton, Cattrall said. The county's not responsible for Bremerton's problems.McMahan concurred. A healthy economy is never built from government action. It's always built by the private sector. Business people (in Bremerton) say the city makes it difficult for business owners to own businesses. Unless we address the real reason Bremerton has not been revitalized, (the governance center) will just be a failure, she said.That said, many Port Orchard residents said they harbor no opposition to revitalizing Bremerton's sagging downtown economy, but not at the expense of Port Orchard.Bremerton is in bad shape, (but) Bremerton needs to get together with its business owners in their own downtown, McCormick said. Come take a look (at) downtown (Port Orchard). We're really struggling downtown. There are empty store fronts. I don't see how moving people and building this center will help anybody.This needs a vote, he said. We're not doing as bad as Bremerton, because we have more business downtown, but we're not doing well at all. "