Group Offers New Vision for Fourth Street

Source: Kitsap Sun
By: Josh Farley
Posted: Aug 27, 2016

BREMERTON — Music legend Quincy Jones has often told the story of the first time his fingers touched the keys of a piano.

One night after a 10-year-old Jones and his family moved to Bremerton in 1943, he and his friends broke into an armory. While others gorged on deserts, Jones found a piano and fell in love immediately.

“And every cell in my body said, ‘This is what you’re gonna do the rest of your life,'” he told talk show host Stephen Colbert in February.

That life-changing discovery, involving one of Bremerton’s most famous former residents, has never been memorialized here. But a group of civic leaders aims to change that.

A proposal called “Quincy Square” was revealed to the Bremerton City Council on Wednesday night. Conceived following two years of meetings among business and nonprofit leaders, property owners and city officials, it envisions a multimillion dollar transformation of Fourth Street between Washington and Pacific avenues.

The project is the latest idea to jump-start a one-way street with a number of decaying, empty buildings, and turn it into a residential and commercial plaza with a square dedicated to Jones as its centerpiece.

“The vision for Quincy Square … is to turn a neglected city block into a thriving, housing-based, day-to-night urban center with focused arts, entertainment, and evening-centric retail spaces,” according to a pamphlet prepared for council members by the Fourth Street Action Group, as it is known.

The group was born out of local architect Steve Rice’s desire to reinvent the block where his firm, Rice Fergus Miller, once had its offices (it has since moved to Fifth Street). In 1993, the street was rebuilt for $389,000 as a one-way, meandering road with wider sidewalks and trees.

But 20 years later, many buildings have languished, along with the iconic Roxy Theater, prompting building owners to call for removal of trees that line the street to bring in more light and visibility. Many residents resisted the idea of chopping down trees, and the issue got Rice thinking.

Instead of thinking of the block commercially, he began to wonder if apartment lofts above the Fourth Street stores could kick-start redevelopment.

In the past year, some properties along the roadway have been purchased by local developer Sound West Group. Combined with federal funding to restore facades on the street, the developer plans to add dozens of apartments atop four buildings it owns on the street. It also purchased the 75-year-old Roxy Theater and is working to restore it.

The “Quincy Square” project is a “targeted revitalization of a chronically empty area,” Rice told the council Wednesday.

Vehicle access on the street would be retained during the day, but officials would have the option of closing it off for events, particularly at night.

“It’s designed to be really flexible, so you could hold a small or large event, it could be a collection of 10 food trucks or it could be three or four live music settings sprinkled throughout the street,” Rice said. “Pretty much anything you could imagine.”

The project would not come cheap. The Fourth Street Action Group anticipates it would cost about $4.8 million and require three years for construction.

A handful of volunteers on the action group spoke in favor. Cary Bozeman, a former Bremerton mayor who is now a Port of Bremerton commissioner, talked of the need for a vibrant plaza downtown.

“Streets aren’t just for cars anymore, they’re holistic places where people can gather,” he said.

Following the presentation, the City Council gave an informal thumbs-up for city officials to apply for federal housing and urban development funds on behalf of the project to help with design costs. The volunteer group’s members vowed to seek grant money to fund the rest of the project. Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent is also supportive.

Rice also talked Wednesday of some of his younger employees at his firm, who are still commuting from other areas because Bremerton has not yet attracted an urban density.

“The idea here is this is where people come together,” Rice said of the plan. “This space could be alive all the time.”