NO matter the era or culture, waterfronts have formed an integral part of the fabric of our communities. When the first Euro-American settlers...
NO matter the era or culture, waterfronts have formed an integral part of the fabric of our communities.
When the first Euro-American settlers arrived in the Puget Sound region in the middle of the 19th century, members of the Duwamish Tribe occupied some 17 villages along Elliott Bay as well as along the river named for the tribe. Today, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coastal counties cover less than 17 percent of the land in the United States, but are home to more than 50 percent of the population. This is certainly the case in our own region, where waterfront communities are the cornerstone of our global identity.
In light of this, it is astonishing to see how many waterfronts across the country have been misused, ignored or degraded over the past several decades.
But I think we have turned the corner. Mayors from waterfront communities are now being joined by regional and state leaders across the country who are trying to realize the potential of their long-neglected shorelines.
There is hardly a waterfront community in our state that is not trying to revitalize its shorelines. Among them: Tacoma, Everett, Bellingham, Olympia, Aberdeen, Mount Vernon, Oak Harbor, Gig Harbor, Des Moines, Vancouver, Wenatchee — even tiny Skamokawa in Wahkiakum County.
When it comes to revitalizing waterfronts, I am an evangelist because I have seen how much redevelopment has helped my city. Redevelopment creates stronger, healthier communities. The economic value of these projects cannot be overlooked. Reviving a waterfront in one community can also add to the overall image of, and bring benefits to, an entire region.
It is one thing to dream about redeveloping a waterfront, but quite another to actually get it done. The obstacles to revitalization can be huge. For proof, look at what Seattle faces: competing visions, resource issues, environmental regulations and coordination challenges among government agencies.
Even so, it can be done. With a clear vision, commitment and perseverance, waterfront revitalization happens.
A strong support network can be valuable for communities working on revitalization. This is why Bremerton is hosting its first national Urban Waterfront Revitalization Conference today through Friday, where pioneering community leaders and innovative solution providers will share best practices.
In Bremerton, we launched a robust campaign about eight years ago to revitalize our waterfront. At the time, our waterfront was essentially one big dismal parking lot. Bremerton? It was more like “Bummertown.”
We began with the baseline perspective that the waterfront belongs to the community at large while embracing our need to preserve our principal industry: the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
Since we had no money, we recognized the need for partnerships. In addition to the shipyard, we worked with other local government agencies, state and federal governments and private developers, such as Opus Northwest.
Together, we invested in high-quality public infrastructure, from parks to transportation amenities, including a $37 million multimodal transit hub at the ferry terminal. Now, private development is beginning to flow into an area that most developers would not have touched 10 years ago. As a result, sales-tax revenue has grown 8 to 9 percent annually.
Even though Bremerton is a model for waterfront redevelopment, we know we don’t have all the answers. At our waterfront event, mayors from Sausalito, Calif., Olympia, Wenatchee and Sidney, B.C., will share their insights into visioning, planning and, ultimately, implementation. Leading consultants, design firms and other experts who work on waterfronts internationally also will be participating. Dozens of community and port leaders will descend on Bremerton to share stories and innovative approaches.
This is a conference not only for government officials but also for business leaders, project planners, economic development experts, developers, financiers, architects, engineers, permitting experts, and land-use and transportation planners.
The potential for all waterfront communities — large or small — to contribute to the overall health and well-being of local citizens and businesses is incredible. Revitalizing waterfronts can be challenging, but as you can see in Bremerton and other places that are succeeding, it’s well worth the effort.
Cary Bozeman is mayor of Bremerton, which is redeveloping its downtown waterfront.