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Consultants criticize Silverdale, Bremerton conference center proposals
Competing proposals to build conference centers on Dyes Inlet in Silverdale and Sinclair Inlet in Bremerton could end up being judged not on their merits, but on complex financing issues and how quickly they could brave county and state permitting processes.A team of consultants told the Kitsap County Public Facilities District Thursday, Sept. 20, that the Silverdale proposal likely would be unable to obtain necessary permits by the Jan. 1, 2003 deadline to receive a .033 percent sales tax refund allowed under state law.The consultants also told the PFD that the Bremerton proposal relies on an ungainly, complicated funding mechanism that could place the city in direct competition with private hoteliers.Representatives of the Property Counselors, Chambers Group and Jones and Stokes consulting firms told the PFD board its two most viable proposals are those from McCormick Land Co. (to build a conference center) and the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department (to upgrade the county Fairgrounds).The PFD board plans to make a preliminary decision on which project to pursue at a meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, at the Eagles Nest building on Fairgrounds Road. Board members will decide on which of the four proposals the PFD should spend up to $10 million in public funds.If the board puts much weight in the opinions of its consultants, the Silverdale and Bremerton proposals could be all but eliminated.David Janis of Jones and Stokes said he doubted that the Dyes Inlet project, proposed by the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce, could be ready in time. State law requires construction to begin before 2003 in order to qualify for the sales tax refund.The chamber estimated that shoreline permits for the project could be granted within six months, but Janis said nine months was more likely.Supporters of the Silverdale proposal later called that a worst-case scenario, and argued that permits for a previously planned project at the site near the WestCoast Silverdale Hotel were obtained more quickly.Janis admitted during his presentation that you can often do things to make it quicker.The consultant also said obtaining a permit to build a parking lot to serve the proposed conference center probably would take longer than expected.Greg Easton of Property Counselors criticized the Bremerton proposal over its complex financing plan.Bremerton proposed to finance the project by establishing a nonprofit organization, which would issue tax-exempt debt on behalf of the city government. When the debt was repaid, ownership of the hotel would revert to the city.This is a very complicated approach to finance, Easton said. It is going to require a heavy degree of involvement by the city, which is highly unusual in a commercial enterprise like this.The city would have to contract with a private hotelier to operate the facility, and such contracts are subject to strict regulations. It also would place the city in the unusual position of competing with private enterprise.The team of consultants found few problems, however, with the Fairgrounds and McCormick Woods proposals.Parks Department officials appear to have convinced the consultants that the Fairgrounds proposal meets all state requirements to be eligible for the sales tax refund. The Fairgrounds also has fewer permitting efforts, because it is not as close to major bodies of water.McCormick Woods had a leg up in that regard, since it already has obtained most necessary permits. Questions about whether the refund would provide enough money to build the projects have been resolved, according to Andy Olsen of The Chambers Group.Easton recommended that the PFD board act on either the Fairgrounds or McCormick proposals.Members could base their decision, he said, on what they believe is their paramount responsibility - to provide an economic boost in the form of a new conference center, or to provide services and activities for Kitsap residents, as in the Fairgrounds proposal.What do you as a board feel is the most important criterion - the economic impact or the service to local residents? Easton asked. If you can reach a consensus on that, we think it'll be a pretty clear decision.