Fairgrounds, Bremerton split PFD money

Tempers flared and things got personal at times, but after two days of marathon meetings the Kitsap Public Facilities District board voted 4-2 to split an $11.5 million sales tax rebate between Kitsap County Fairgrounds improvements and a scaled-down Sinclair Inlet conference center.

The board pledged $6.9 million to the Bremerton project and $4.2 million for Fairgrounds improvements at the Dec. 18 meeting. The remainder of the money available from the sales tax rebate — $400,000 — will cover expenses incurred by the board.

The board previously pledged $4.5 million to the Fairgrounds, but members had to scale back the sum to cover PFD administrative costs. The PFD and the county will work together to determine how the $4.2 million is spent, since the county owns the land and the PFD is financing the project, said Cris Gears, director of the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department.

Proposed Fairgrounds improvements include installing artificial turf and a new stage in Thunderbird Stadium, improving ballfields and constructing a new equestrian facility.

Bremerton Mayor Lynn Horton originally requested $7.5 million for the Bremerton project, which includes a 15,000-square-foot conference center and a 632-stall parking garage, but said the city could “make it work” with the lesser figure.

Horton estimated the entire project — including a privately-developed restaurant, a 100-room hotel and retail shops to be constructed by Minneapolis-based Opus Corp. — will bring the city $350,000 in sales tax revenue which can be put toward supporting the project.

Before the final decision, Horton and her team of architects, developers and financial analysts were pummeled for two nights by intense criticism from two PFD consultants, Andrew Olsen of the Chambers Group and Greg Easton of Property Counselors, Inc.

The consultants were concerned that most conference centers around the state operate at a deficit and that the city’s cost, revenue and demand estimates were skewed.

“We do not believe the financial study represents a truly independent angle,” Olsen said of the 101-page project proposal. “There is not quantitative data related to the size of the groups” which would use the conference center.

However, several lawmakers and community members came to the Bremerton proposal’s rescue during the Dec. 19 meeting at the Eagle’s Nest building on Fairgrounds Road.

The project will involve a multitude of partners, said County Commissioner Tim Botkin, and although the PFD holds the purse strings, several other agencies will tow the line.

Bremerton mayor-elect and former PFD board member Cary Bozeman assured his former colleagues he would move forward on the development with enthusiasm when he takes office.

Support also came from Gears, who spearheaded the Fairgrounds improvement proposal.

“Any money that goes toward this project will improve parks and recreation,” Gears said.

He added that “$4.5 million won’t get us to our goal, but $11.5 million won’t get us there either.”

North Kitsap representative Cy Wyse and Poulsbo representative Linda Berry-Maraist voted against the Bremerton project.

“Are we going to spend this money on a parking garage over recreational facilities for the kids?” Berry-Maraist asked.

The groups will receive money from a .033 sales tax rebate permitted by state law. To qualify for the rebate, the facility must serve a regional population and cost at least $10 million, including debt service.

One-third of the total cost of the facility must be matched by the agency proposing the project, and construction of the facility must commence before 2003.

The money is a refund of sales tax revenue collected by the state, and no new taxes are levied.

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