A business that never left downtown Bremerton

From the time in 1983 when a young architect named Steve Rice decided to open his own business on Fourth Street, the business has never wavered from its commitment to downtown Bremerton.

As the office Rice opened grew into a business of more than 50 employees over the years, they had to find a bigger building — which could have meant moving to Silverdale or even Seattle. But Rice and her partners, Dave Fergus and Mike Miller, decided to stay downtown. In 2009, still in the midst of an economic recession, they decided to purchase the former Sears Auto Store on Fifth Street across from the Norm Dicks Government Center. They then designed and built one of the most interesting and energy-efficient office spaces in the Northwest. They even included a public meeting space in the lobby of the building to host community events.

With the recent retirement of Fergus, who joined Miller’s last spring and Rice in late 2021, the city owes them a debt of gratitude for their commitment and faith in downtown Bremerton.

Cary Bozeman.

I was mayor of the town for part of the time they were considering moving. I was concerned that if they left downtown Bremerton it would send a terrible message to other potential businesses interested in coming downtown and that the heart of the city might never reach its full potential. Losing one of your downtown’s most respected private companies and the leadership the company brings to the community would have been a terrible blow. When Steve Rice informed me that Rice Fergus Miller and his employees would be staying downtown, I was very relieved and happy, to say the least.

Why was their decision so important to the town of Bremerton? Private companies bring leaders into a community, professionals who get involved and truly drive change.

During the 1970s and 1980s downtown Bremerton lost many of its major retail businesses at Silverdale Mall such as Sears, JC Penney and a Nordstrom outlet all gone and the town lost many leaders individuals who worked for these companies. These people had served on the boards of the Bremerton Chamber and the Bremerton Rotary and even the Bremerton School Board, and then weren’t as active anymore because they no longer worked in downtown Bremerton. With the loss of business leaders and little leadership from elected officials, downtown Bremerton has suffered economically and socially for over 25 years.

With private companies like Rice Fergus Miller – now led by Greg Belding, Jennifer Fleming, Gunnar Gladics and Dean Kelly – and Art Anderson & Associates engaged in the downtown area, things have started to change. The big change downtown has been the development of downtown and waterfront condos and apartments. These projects have brought in new leaders, people willing to serve on boards, run for office, and even start their own businesses in the city. Downtown Bremerton is showing signs of becoming a vibrant urban neighborhood with a mix of residences, small and medium businesses, and government offices.

A thriving city needs two things: strong business leaders who are willing to get involved and elected officials who are willing to take tough positions on important issues. I’m grateful to Steve Rice, Dave Fergus and Mike Miller for doing that.

Cary Bozeman is currently Commissioner of Bremerton Harbor Commissioner and former Mayor of Bremerton (20XX-2008).

Michael J. Chiaramonte