Her dream for a park is coming true

Alicia Elliott bought the land in December, and already events are held

Staff writerJuly 30, 2013 

In a few short months, a new community park on Olympia’s west side has taken shape.

West Central Park, which sprouted from a long-vacant lot at Harrison Avenue and Division Street, now has a crushed rock surface for events plus redwood picnic tables, benches and flower-filled planters. A shed on adjoining property was given a mural of a tree. And there’s now water for keeping the plants happy during the dry summer.

The park has hosted two major events, one just last weekend called the Bite of West Olympia.

And it’s just the start of what Alicia Elliott has in store for the park. Elliott spent $450,000 of her own money to buy the property at 1919 Division St. in December after a succession of proposals to develop it — at least five since the old Rowland Lumber Co. building burned in 1997.

Weekly work parties are planned to continue to improve the park. Elliott wants to build an open-air food court pavilion, a water feature, an edible garden and a perimeter of shade trees. Checkerboard tables would allow people to play checkers. She’s working to establish a nonprofit, to which she plans to deed the park to keep it in perpetuity.

Though the park’s not finished, Elliott encourages anyone to come visit now, and people are responding. They’re eating lunch, practicing yoga and even drumming to the drone of the traffic at one of the city’s busiest intersections. “I’ve seen an Evergreen writing class being held here,” she said.

“We have a focus on local events, local business,” Elliott said.

She dreams of a commercial kitchen and a 24-hour cafe, with a bathroom. But it’s not just her; she’s working with a board of directors on bylaws.

She’s planning an Oct. 12 black-tie event to raise money. The group hopes to raise $152,000; it has gathered $21,400 so far.

The majority of the phase two improvements could take place next year, after fundraising.

Future plans include reclaiming an alley and adding it to the park, and perhaps adding some adjoining properties if they come up for sale.

Another hurdle the group has to clear is getting land-use approval from the city of Olympia for the park. Elliott has applied to the city for a “change of use,” which the city requires “when the type of business or occupancy being proposed is different from the previous type, or when a space has been vacant for more than 12 months.”

The city’s top inspector, Tom Hill, said Elliott will have a conference with the city on Aug. 14. The city will then determine what permits or other land-use designations the site requires. He noted that it’s unusual for the city to receive an application to put in a privately owned park. Elliott envisions a “neighborhood park that is pedestrian-oriented and dedicated primarily to green space,” according to the application.

“People ride their bikes up here,” she said. “People take the bus up here. It’s a very easy place to meet, and I’m really pleased about that.

“I think it’s going to work out very well for the community.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor

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