Foundation donates $100,000 for park on Olympia's isthmus

ahobbs@theolympian.comDecember 17, 2013 

Jerry Reilly, chairman of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, presented a $100,000 check to the Olympia City Council on Tuesday night. The money will go toward site preparations for a future park on the isthmus across from the state Capitol building.

ANDY HOBBS

The Olympia Capitol Park Foundation gave the city $100,000 Tuesday toward a future park on a strip of land known as the “isthmus properties.”

The check presentation coincided with the Olympia City Council’s unanimous approval of an agreement that commits the city to putting the foundation’s money toward demolition of buildings on the isthmus site and to working with the group to raise additional funds.

The foundation has a goal of raising $400,000 to proceed with the park’s first phase, which includes clearing and preparing the site.

“This will be a big signal to people because what began as a vision and an idea has turned into a near-term practical reality,” said Jerry Reilly, chairman of the park foundation, who called the $100,000 check a “down payment.” More than 150 donors contributed to the amount, he said.

In June, Olympia completed the purchase of 2.3 acres total at 505 and 529 Fourth Ave. W. for about $3.3 million. The deal was seen as a major leap forward for a project whose seeds were planted in 2008. At that time, nearly 5,000 people had signed a petition in favor of a park on the isthmus across from the state Capitol building. The site had formerly been slated for a pair of upscale condominium buildings.

The foundation’s vision is to establish a park with clear view of the Capitol by removing vacant and deteriorated buildings on the isthmus. One goal is to eventually acquire and demolish the nine-story Capitol Center, an office building which has been dubbed “the mistake by the lake.”

Project sponsors don’t yet have a timetable for construction. Reilly is optimistic that some site preparation for the park can begin by spring 2014. He estimated the total cost for the isthmus park could be between $15 million and $18 million.

In addition to the money the city spent on purchasing the land, the project has also received a Thurston County Conservation Futures grant worth $600,000.

City Manager Steve Hall said Olympia will pursue a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to put toward demolition of the asbestos-laden buildings. City Attorney Tom Morrill said that step of the site’s preparation would cost about $500,000.

The isthmus park was a divisive political issue more than four years ago. Several current and former city council members were elected – or defeated – based on their support for the project.

“I ran four years ago on the isthmus issue,” said Councilwoman Jeannine Roe, who praised the public-private partnership after Tuesday’s check presentation. “It’s exciting to see things changing and moving forward.”

In other action Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to amend a controversial ordinance that requires all users of city-owned parking lots to get a permit for non-parking activities. The issue surfaced after supporters of Crazy Faith Ministries, which feeds homeless people at an empty lot downtown, argued that volunteers would face several criminal penalties.

The council amended the ordinance so that only civil infractions – such as a $50 ticket for the first offense - apply to those who use a city parking lot without a permit. The ordinance’s original language included a criminal provision that carried fines of up to $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail for “street obstructions.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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