Coppola at the helm of port poised for changes

Arla Shephard, March 22, 2015, Kitsap Sun

Lary Coppola knows how to anticipate change.

 

Back in 2000, Coppola sold his regional real estate magazine franchise, Homes & Land, with the expectation that future homebuyers would rely more on the Internet to research new homes.

 

As Port Orchard mayor from 2008 to 2012, Coppola anticipated new growth and fostered annexations into the city that allowed for economic development, such as the annexation of the Fred Meyer property and McCormick Woods.

 

Now as the Port of Allyn’s new executive director, Coppola is at the helm of several key projects expected to bring big changes in North Mason, including the port’s interest in acquiring the Mary E. Theler Community Center and the construction of an industrial park in Belfair.

 

“I don’t see a lot of changes to Allyn itself,” Coppola said. “It’s one of those places where nobody wants to see it explode with development. But there’s a lot that could be done to make life easier for people”

 

Coppola grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he worked for what was then the Fort Lauderdale News in high school, his first foray into the publishing world.

 

As an adult, Coppola worked in the construction field as an electrician and press secretary for an electrician’s union in Florida.

 

In the 1970s, as Fort Lauderdale exploded from a city of 100,000 people to more than 1 million, Broward County placed a two-year moratorium on developers while the county commission developed a land-use plan.

 

Coppola decided to spend the time traveling and came to the West Coast to consider working on the construction of the trans-Alaska Pipeline system, he said.

 

“The Seattle area was considered a jumping off point for the Alaska pipeline,” Coppola said. “We got here and we liked it so much, we wanted to stay.”

 

Coppola moved to Gig Harbor in 1975 and began to look at other job opportunities, realizing he “didn’t want to be 40, stuck in a ditch,” he said.

 

So he embarked on a new career.

 

“I was 28 and I had a waterfront house, how many people could say that?” he said. “I thought, ‘Why not go into business for myself and see how it goes, while I’m young?’”

 

Coppola delved into real estate photography, taking photos of homes for sale for Multiple Listing Service’s now-defunct magazine.

 

Coppola noticed that a “homes for sale”-type magazine didn’t exist in the Gig Harbor area, so he started one — Preview, which became Real Estate Guide. He eventually owned four such magazines in the area.

 

When the opportunity presented itself to purchase a Homes & Land franchise magazine in the area, Coppola took it, meeting his future wife in the process.

 

“She lived in Macon, Georgia, and we were at a Homes & Land national convention,” Coppola said. “She dropped a doughnut on my foot in the buffet line. Six months later, we were married.”

 

In 1986, the couple moved to Manchester in South Kitsap; in 1987, they founded Wet Apple Media, which publishes Westsound Home & Garden and published the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal until Scripps purchased the latter last year.

 

“I came up with the idea of Westsound Home & Garden, but it’s 100 percent my wife’s implementation,” Coppola said. “My wife is the best advertising sales person I’ve ever seen.”

 

In 2000, Coppola sold his Homes & Land franchise, anticipating a narrower market for print real estate listings.

 

“The average homebuyer was becoming more and more Internet savvy,” he said. “What does that mean for my business? I knew that the average homebuyer in another 10 years has never not known the Internet. Rather than go to Safeway for a magazine, they’re going online.”

 

In late 2006, Coppola and his wife owned a home in downtown Port Orchard that they wanted to turn into a three-story office condominium.

 

The city, however, had plans to widen the highway, taking a portion of Coppola’s property. For two years, Coppola claimed, he never got an answer as to how much the city would take.

 

He decided to run for mayor after an unsatisfactory experience with a city engineer.

 

“We had a meeting, and he comes at me with, ‘What do you want?’ not, ‘Hello, can I help you?’” Coppola said. “At that moment, I decided I was going to run for mayor. It was about wanting to fix what I thought was a dysfunctional city.”

 

From 2008 through 2012, Coppola served as Port Orchard’s mayor and chief administrative official, transitioning the job from a part-time one to a full-time position and ushering in annexations that grew Port Orchard’s population and tax base.

 

“I’m proud of what we accomplished,” said Coppola, noting the McCormick Woods and Fred Meyer annexations in particular. “When I got there, the city was dipping into its reserves for payroll. I created resources without layoffs or furloughs. We were the only government in Kitsap still open five days a week during the recession.”

 

Coppola lost his re-election bid by five votes in a recount, but he said that life moves on.

 

“Losing that election was probably the most humbling thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said. “It gave me a renewed sense of public service, of wanting to make a difference.”

 

Coppola applied for the Port of Allyn’s executive director position in 2013, then again last year after former director Rusty Bonser’s termination.

 

“The port’s primary mission is economic development and that’s been a personal passion of mine,” he said. “It’s more about the opportunity to give back. Economic development creates jobs, and you have the opportunity to make people’s lives better by doing that.”

 

Coppola has worked with Mason County businessowners since he started the Business Journal in the 1980s, and he’s eager to meet new people and groups.

 

The port has tasked him with four main projects to work on right now, including a feasibility study on whether the port should manage the Theler community center in Belfair, developing a plan for the old Sargent oyster house on port property, finishing the LakeLand Village sidewalk project and starting an update on the port’s strategic plan.

 

Additionally, Coppola will work on ways to make the office more efficient and will look closely at the port’s facilities to see whether they need to be better maintained.

 

While Allyn might not change in the near future, Coppola does foresee changes in North Mason that could work in the port’s favor.

 

“If a Belfair bypass is built, that will determine where the port would like to build an industrial park,” he said. “Whether or not the bypass happens, it would behoove us to see a park in North Mason. There have even been talks to extend the sewer out to it.”

 

Coppola and his wife still live in Manchester, with their 11-year-old grandson, but Coppola dreams of living on Hood Canal.

 

His focus for now is on his new job.

 

“Making people’s lives better is more important to me now than it used to be,” he said. “Allyn is a beautiful place, a nice place with nice people. It’s not my job to come here and pave over everything.”

 

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