PORT ORCHARD — Board members of the Kitsap Public Facilities District voted to place the South Kitsap Community Events Center project application at the top of its funding priority list Monday night at its meeting in Port Orchard.
That’s the good news for supporters of the $21 million project, who once again filled a conference room — this time the Kitsap County’s commissioners’ chambers — to remind board members of the community’s support for the public-private project that would be the initial part of a proposed major multi-use commercial and residential redevelopment of downtown Port Orchard.
Before the meeting’s business agenda items were discussed, members of the public were invited to speak — including a number of people associated with the various community projects being considered. Of note was that most acknowledged that South Kitsap, which has had projects bypassed over the last decade, was finally due for PFD funding. Board members, as well, took up the SK mantra, although some used the momentum to include the Bremerton project under the South Kitsap umbrella.
Board members have been reviewing seven proposals submitted from throughout Kitsap County for funding consideration. Public input gathered over the past few months also had been part of their review process, the board said.
The more subdued news coming from the meeting, however, is that the seven PFD board members seemed divided or unsure how to move their decision-making effort forward. As part of their evaluation process in choosing a priority list from among seven competing community proposals from throughout the county, the members earlier shared their own project rankings rated from first to worst.
The board reportedly has up to $30 million in bonding capacity from which to potentially provide funding for selected projects. The PFD has the responsibility for allocating an existing pool of Washington state sales tax rebate funds that have been allocated for Kitsap County community projects.
South Kitsap’s project application was submitted to the PFD by developers from Sound West Group. The project is now shepherded by the City of Port Orchard, the lead public partner, and two other public partners, Kitsap County and the Port of Bremerton. The board ranked the project as the top submittal worthy of funding. Rated second was a project submitted for the Poulsbo Events Center, and third was a plan to develop the Port Gamble Heritage Park. A Bremerton project, Circuit of the Northwest, a multi-use motorsports road course on 232 acres of Port of Bremerton property, placed fourth.
Following the disclosure of the voting results, board members seemed unsure about how to proceed. Board member Rick Smith made a motion to initially issue $750,000 to the City of Port Orchard. Smith’s motion indicated that funds were to be spent on initial design and planning studies.
But in a freewheeling exchange with the board, Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu said the city couldn’t accept such an issuance without a more concrete financial commitment from the PFD.The South Kitsap proposal submitted to the board requested up to $13 million, which would comprise the largest portion of of the project’s funding package.
That motion was ruled out of order after other board members called for face-to-face negotiations with the city to develop an interlocal agreement that would clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of the project partners. A later motion calling for PFD and city staff members to begin those talks was unanimously passed by the board.
Putaansuu said Tuesday that although he was pleased with the support from the South Kitsap community at the meeting and the board’s vote, he was uncertain with where the project currently stands.
“My disappointment is that I’ve got a developer that wants to build a project, but the anchor tenant’s participation [Kitsap Bank] is contingent on this community center,” he said. “The PFD offered money to do a space analysis and design, but we still don’t know what the total commitment is from them.
“I need to know how much PFD is going to give us so that we can move this master plan project forward. I don’t get the sense that there’s any urgency to their actions to give us a commitment to the dollar amount.”
Steve Sego, the presenting partner for Sound West Group, said afterward he hopes in the next few months that an interlocal agreement will be hammered out between the city and PFD.
In the meantime, the PFD and Kitsap County met this week to determine whether the county will become the bonding partner for their overall funding efforts, which likely will provide more clarity about how much money the PFD will ultimately be able to allocate.
“The takeaway from all this is that South Kitsap finished No. 1 in the ranking,” Sego said. “The expectation is that provides us the certainty that we’ll be funded. To what degree will be determined over the next month. The great news is that this community rose up. This is the second time that we’ve had more than a hundred people at a meeting. Nobody has ever come close to that at a PFD meeting.”
Mike Walton, PFD’s executive director, confirmed that he and legal counsel Brian Lawler will be involved in negotiations to develop an interlocal agreement with the City of Port Orchard and other government entities.
“We will be talking to and negotiating with all of those parties to determine who is going to be the lead agency or, in effect, the owner-operator of that facility,” he said.
“Those negotiations will go on for a while. It usually takes a little while to sort out who’s doing what to whom, and who’s going to pay for it.”
Walton said a more accurate determination needs to be made about the project’s feasibility.
“Right now, it’s a concept with a bunch of numbers on it and there’s a lot more that needs to go in to define the initial step, the feasibility study, the second step to determine what the cost might be and to have documents, engineering drawings and whatever will define a more accurate determination of what it’s going to cost to get it started, and what it’s going to cost to get it finished.”
When asked about the board’s uncertainty about the follow-on steps in its own process, Walton said the board hasn’t dealt with a decision of this size for 15 years or so.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been through this process with this kind of magnitude of dollars,” he said. “We’ve done smaller projects, but we’ve done it within the context of the existing facilities in which there were already existing ILAs and definitions of who’s responsible for what, what we could do and if we want to do an expansion or new addition.
“Here, we’re creating this out of whole cloth. We are starting this from the beginning and going through the same process that we went through 16 or 17 years ago. The original planning was done between 2001 and 2004. So we have to replicate that process.”
The PFD board’s next scheduled meeting is on Aug. 12.