Source: Kitsap Sun
By: Josh Farley
Posted: Aug 30, 2014

BREMERTON – Atop a concrete staircase slowly being overrun with blackberry vines, Wes Larson and Mike Brown believe they’ve found a $15 million opportunity.

Never mind their vantage point, a 1-1/2 acre section of mostly derelict real estate that includes homes from the late 19th Century. They see unimpeded views of the Port Washington Narrows and Sinclair Inlet, bisected by the new Manette Bridge. And they’re betting that, in spearheading construction of an 80-unit, five-story apartment tower there, that others will be captivated by those panoramas, too.

“Even from the first floor, people will have spectacular views,” Brown said.

Over the next year, the Spyglass Hill project will begin to rise from its perch between Highland and Washington avenues. At 220 feet above sea level, it’s the highest point in downtown Bremerton ? hence the reference to Robert Louis Stevenson’s coming-of-age 19th Century classic. (Spyglass Hill was the highest point on Treasure Island.) It will change not only the landscape here but also the skyline, on par with the likes of the nearby Norm Dicks Government Center.

“I look at this as a legacy project,” Larson said. “I think it’s going to be a great asset for the community, and for generations to come.”

Larson and Brown are managing partners of the Sound West Group development company. Brown has headed up FPH Construction, a partner of Sound West, since 1978. Larson, who grew up not far from the Spyglass site, long managed a $1 billion portfolio at an international bank before returning to the area in the late 1990s. The pair have since embarked on a gamut of projects: the REI Building in Silverdale, the Chateau Ridge housing development in Poulsbo, the Tower Medical Center in Silverdale.

Larson started believing in the idea of Spyglass in 2007. He remembers as a child the craftsman homes that lined Highland Avenue, many of which will remain encircled around Spyglass itself.

“It was the Queen Anne of Bremerton,” Larson said.

During the days of the hot and ultimately overheating real estate market, the project moved along. It had site approval from the city in 2008. Then the economy tanked. But Sound West Group did not abandon the project.

It reduced the project’s size from 132 to 80 units to provide for more on-site parking, which now will number 105 spots. Larson said forgoing an underground parking garage cut the cost of the development substantially.

Within the last few years, Sound West Group has been successful at finding silent partners to join the Spyglass project, which can be the toughest part to get off the ground. Curious investors could get an idea of the views Larson and Brown were peddling simply by going to visit the nearby Norm Dicks Government Center, climbing to Mayor Patty Lent’s sixth floor office. Lent, for her part, was always willing to make a pitch for Bremerton to go with, Brown said.

Lent said it wasn’t a hard sell for her. Bremerton combines a Northwest quality of life, on the shores of Puget Sound, without having to pay Seattle prices.

“You can pay half the price of what you’d pay in Seattle to get (a unit) twice the size, with water views and the ability to walk everywhere,” she said. “That’s pretty exciting.”

The two men said their other strength was how they do business. Sound West Group’s approach is to be a one-stop shop ? acquisition, development, construction, building management.

“For us, a motivating force is that we’re in our own backyard,” Larson said.

Sound West was able to snap up a T-shaped property for the project in fairly short order, with only three property owners encompassing the entire project along the 600 block of both Highland and Washington. The last purchase was two dilapidated homes owned by John Hoffman at 649 and 653 Washington Avenue that sit just above the Manette Bridge. Hoffman had been brought before the city’s hearing examiner in 2013 for code violations stemming from their disrepair.

The developers plan to put in a bench and a plaque for Hoffman’s family, who were among the earliest in Bremerton.

Clearing the Hoffman properties did not lead to an expansion of the project itself but rather presented an opportunity to increase parking on the site ? a concern among neighbors on Highland who felt the street would be overrun. A sliver of a building adjacent to Ninth Street was also purchased, giving Spyglass another access route for its tenants.

The developers have already completed asbestos abatement at all homes to be demolished. Next, in late September, comes demolition of the nine homes.

Construction on Spyglass, undertaken by The Rush Companies of Gig Harbor, is slated to begin in November.

The complex includes two main buildings: a set of town homes along Highland Avenue and a five-story tower. Rice Fergus Miller, the architecture firm that designed Spyglass, opted for the town homes to blend in to the Highland Avenue aesthetic, said Bob Guyt, an architect heavily involved in the project.

The exterior of the tower includes an abundance of glass to soak up the view. Many units include a deck.

“This is housing stock that doesn’t exist in Bremerton,” Brown said. “And maybe even in all of Kitsap County.”

A fifth of the units will also be priced at a level on par with affordable housing rates in the county. Studios and one bedroom apartments dominate the lower floors, with more expansive units coming the higher you go, as well as on the book ends of the building. A terrace will give all tenants an opportunity to go on the complex’s roof for even better views.

City improvements on Washington Avenue will be made as construction is underway and will include wider sidewalks and bike lanes from the Manette Bridge to Fifth Street.

Larson and Brown say they could not build Spyglass were it not for other downtown projects; the SEEFilm theater, Kitsap Conference Center and Norm Dicks Government Center preceding them.

“We would not be doing this if it had not been for previous developments,” Brown said.

They’re hoping Spyglass will bring a new wave of people living downtown and bring demand for more businesses, specifically a downtown grocer.

“You’ve gotta get people living downtown. Then the retail will follow,” Larson said. “Perhaps this project will tip the scales for downtown Bremerton.”

Spyglass is expected to open in Summer 2016.