BREMERTON — Design work is underway for a $5 million public square that will reshape downtown Bremerton. City leaders hope they'll soon have an official endorsement from the man they plan to name it after.
Architects are drawing up official plans for a concept to transform Fourth Street, between Washington and Pacific avenues, into an open-air hub for special events. In homage to Quincy Jones, the music icon who spent some of his formative years in Bremerton, they've dubbed it "Quincy Square."
"This is going to be a magnificent project," said Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler. "To have Quincy Jones' name could turn this into a regional attraction."
The city thus far has received a federal grant of $300,000 to go with a $250,000 contribution from the state for preliminary work. The Bremerton City Council in September approved a $495,000 contract with local firm Rice Fergus Miller to design the new public square; the firm vowed to have design drawings "bid-ready" by August 2019 to begin to compete for grant funding to construct the project.
Steve Rice, of Rice Fergus Miller, said the square would provide not only a "great neighborhood place" downtown but also serve to inspire young people with Jones as its central theme.
"The most exciting thing is the people coming together to help this dream come to life," he said.
Wheeler wants to make sure the city has an official go-ahead from Jones, who discovered his lifelong love of music here in Bremerton in the late 1940s.
"It's a matter of respect to get that approval," Wheeler said.
It's an important decision. The project could include a large "Q" and mural to the man who's racked up a record 79 Grammy nominations. To name a public square is to "incorporate it into the everyday fabric of where we live and how we live," said Derek H. Alderman, a geographer at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
"There’s a permanence to it that outstays generations," said Alderman, who has studied place names and tracked efforts to rename streets for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the past 25 years. "It becomes part of how we see our surroundings and what we call our sense of place, our sense of order."
Alderman noted the United States "doesn't have a very long history" of naming places for prominent African-Americans. Even Bremerton in the 1940s was a city of de-facto segregation, with Jones living in Sinclair Heights, a mostly black neighborhood in what is now the West Hills area. "Recognizing Quincy Jones speaks to some larger cultural changes that are happening in the United States," Alderman said.
The idea for the square itself came on a trip to Brooklyn in 2014 by longtime local architect Rice, who wondered if the block was ripe for a revival that included both residential and commercial elements. The block of Fourth Street had been turned into a one-way street in a previous $389,000 project by the city in 1993. Rice convened a "Fourth Street Action Group" to contemplate a redesign, and it wasn't long before Emily Russell, a landscape architect with an office on the block, thought of a theme around Quincy Jones.
In an appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," Jones informed the host that it was in Bremerton, where his family lived during the years of World War II and immediately thereafter, where he'd first touched a piano.
“I touched it,” Jones told Colbert in early 2016, “And every cell in my body said 'this is what you’re gonna do the rest of your life.'”
Local developers Sound West Group, a part of the Fourth Street Action Group, bought into the concept — literally. The group bought and rehabilitated the 1941-built Roxy Theater, which reopened earlier this year, as well as carved 27 units of apartments into the old Ford dealership and Sears store, calling them "B Flats" in a nod to Jones.
Jones become aware of the public square concept in 2016 by previous Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, who'd written to ask if he'd like to attend a dedication ceremony and fundraiser for the square in his name, planned then to be held in spring 2017.
Arnold Robinson, a spokesman for the music icon, said at that time Jones appreciated the invitation but could not attend. He was appreciative of the gesture, however.
"As I’m sure you know Bremerton holds a very special place in Mr. Jones’ heart and he is honored that the city has seen fit to recognize him with the dedication of this square," Robinson responded.
Wheeler, though, says Bremerton, in committing to a $5 million project, needs more than that.
If the city is not able to get something formalized, he'd be open to having a public process to find a new name. But he doesn't want it to have to come to that.
"We want to give them every opportunity to make this possible," Wheeler said.