Downtown plans pave way for revitalization

October 25, 2012 

Though it may not appear so to the uninformed eye, a significant number of redevelopment projects are under way in downtown Olympia that will change the face of the city’s historic core district.

The first phase of the Percival Landing renovation opened last year. The City of Olympia is pursuing the purchase and redevelopment of portions of the isthmus properties, and there is considerable political will to eventually acquire the Capital Center building.

Meanwhile, the city is proceeding with a dramatic redesign of the Washington Center, driven by the need to replace the city-owned facility’s siding and roof. That project will revitalize the heart of the downtown area.

The new Hands On Children’s Museum is scheduled to open its indoor facilities next month. The East Bay Public Plaza opened this summer, which connects the HOCM with the LOTT Clean Water Alliance’s new administrative building and WET Science Center via a wetland pond and flowing stream of reclaimed water.

There is a larger overall development plan for the East Bay portion of the Port of Olympia properties containing in the port’s 10-year plan. It envisions a hotel, residences, restaurants and other businesses.

According to the port’s plan, the former industrial open space would continue to revitalize this naturally attractive area of the city. It is one of the reasons that Olympia moved its city hall onto Fourth Avenue, between Cherry and Chestnut streets.

There’s a good example of what East Bay could become, just a little way up Puget Sound. The recent redevelopment of the old Asarco smelter site, positioned along Tacoma’s waterfront between the Port of Tacoma and Point Defiance Park, offers many comparisons to East Bay.

The smokestack of the lead and copper smelter was once the tallest in the world, and 100 years of processing left serious ground contamination. For a time, the smelter also produced arsenic.

Asarco closed its operations for good in 1985, and about 20 years later sold the 67-acre site to a development company that planned a mix of commercial retail, housing and open space.

After six years of cooperation between the developers and the Port of Tacoma, the City of Tacoma and Pierce County, construction is about to begin. The News Tribune has reported that demand for retail leases on the ground floor of the first eight-story Copperline apartment building has exceeded capacity.

One of the first six businesses going into Point Ruston’s first phase is Olympia Olive Oil, which began in our downtown, but will make the new Tacoma outlet its flagship.

Local Pierce County artists have contributed mosaic centerpieces along a Waterwalk pathway, which travels between the development and the shoreline, at the five intersections leading into the residences and businesses.

The plan is not necessarily a template for East Bay, but it shows how a classic brownfield site can be transformed into a vibrant neighborhood that creates jobs, attractive single- and multi-family housing, and opportunities for new small businesses.

With a comprehensive plan and a Shoreline Management Program that supports a similar, appropriate vision for our community, Olympia could create a special place along the East Bay waterfront.

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