Source: Kitsap Sun
By: Josh Farley
Posted: Nov 11, 2015
BREMERTON — Wes Larson recalls the lines that wrapped around the block on Fourth Street when “Star Wars” premiered at the Roxy Theater.
That was 1977. Nearly four decades later, Larson would like to bring back the crowds to the historic Bremerton theater.
“It’s one of the most amazing assets in all of downtown Bremerton,” Larson said of the 1941-built art deco movie house. “I think it’s got a lot of potential.”
Larson’s Sound West Group has the theater under contract, though the final purchase has not gone through. It’s the latest in a number of purchases on the street that the Bremerton-based development company is pursuing in an effort to “reactivate” the portion of Fourth between Washington and Pacific avenues, he said.
In total, they have contracts to purchase nearly 70,000 square feet of real estate on the same block — and more would be welcomed, Larson said.
“We’re trying to acquire as much as we can,” he said. “We feel it’s the right time. And the bigger, the better.”
The company is closing in on two buildings east of the Roxy, one of which once housed the Sears department store and the other belonging to longtime property owner Lou Weir. They also are hoping to close a deal on a nearby building at 279 Fourth St., also owned by Weir.
Some of the buildings have not been occupied by storefront businesses for decades. Sound West Group hopes to tap into about $235,000 in federal block grant money that would modernize the building at 279 and build new facades at the Sears and Weir buildings. The Bremerton City Council will vote next week to formally ask the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for the funds, and Larson hopes work can begin in early 2016.
The company, which already owns and inhabits the office building at 423 Pacific Ave., also is constructing the Spyglass Hill apartments on Highland Avenue near the Manette Bridge, a $15 million project that will bring 80 new units to downtown Bremerton.
The stretch of Fourth Street between Washington and Pacific long included vacant buildings that some developers have blamed on its one-way street configuration and dense tree landscape.
About a year ago, Steve Rice, whose architecture firm once abutted that street, started a stakeholders’ group to find a solution to bring life back to the street. Coupled with the city’s approval to use its federal HUD money toward downtown economic development, Rice Fergus Miller drew concepts that included residential units on the street — and Sound West Group has largely followed through on that vision, Rice said.
“We wanted to make the street a great street again, and I think we’re onto something here,” Rice said. “I’m extremely pleased. Things are really coming together.”
Sound West would like to build 30 to 35 apartment spaces on the block, to go with the existing 65 parking spots and two retail storefronts. But nothing is set in stone.
Larson sees a downtown that’s “funky and hip,” ripe for millennials to move into, with the Roxy as a “critical piece” to help that block of Fourth Street come alive.
Crystal Yingling, who has spearheaded the Roxy Revival group aimed at resurrecting the theater, said it’s the fifth time an owner has closed in on buying the property but only the second to secure it under contract. She said she’s “cautiously optimistic” the deal will go through and has met with Larson about a plan going forward.
Larson said his group isn’t interested in managing the theater; he would like to work with a community group like Roxy Revival that’s already been meeting.
“I’m just Tom Sawyer painting a fence here,” he said.