Downtown Olympia to get many upgrades in new year

ahobbs@theolympian.comJanuary 1, 2014 

From public safety and economic development to new sidewalks, several initiatives are on tap for downtown Olympia in 2014.

In January, the city is seeking a Section 108 federal loan to install alleyway lights and improve sidewalk access in a 26-block area of the downtown core. The area is bordered by Thurston Avenue to the north, Legion Way to the south, Columbia Street to the west and Cherry Street to the east.

The goal is to improve safety while reducing crime and graffiti in unlighted alleys. The Olympia Police Department reports that three aggravated assaults and three robberies have occurred in that area during the past year. The city’s public works department is scheduled to install the lights between May and November at a cost of $50,000.

As part of the loan, sidewalk improvements will be made in the 100 block of State Avenue between Capitol Way and Columbia Street. Crews will install new sidewalks measuring 10 feet wide, along with new street trees. ADA access ramps will be added at the southeast corner of State Avenue and Columbia Street. For this portion of the project, construction is expected to last between May 2014 and December 2015 and cost about $275,000.

Olympia is eligible for the Section 108 loan because at least 51 percent of residents in the project area are considered low- to moderate-income. The median income in this area is $14,959, the city reports.

The city will repay the loan through Community Development Block Grant entitlement proceeds; in other words, the city is borrowing against these federal grants. On Dec. 17, the Olympia City Council held a public hearing during its weekly meeting. After the public comment period ends Monday, the council will need to decide whether to move forward with the loan application.

Also coming in 2014:

 • Starting in January, the Olympia Police Department will add another officer to its Downtown Walking Patrol. The program was restored in 2013 following voter approval of a sales tax increase for public safety. Alongside standard safety duties, the walking patrol officers will also concentrate on heroin-related issues, said spokeswoman Laura Wohl. The police force hopes to fill several positions that went vacant due to retirements. The department is 12 officers short of its total of 69 commissioned officers, Wohl said.

 • Results from a 2013 ArtSpace survey will be available in late February or early March. Some people say the arts have serious potential as an economic development tool in Olympia. The Olympia ArtSpace Alliance hopes to apply the survey toward a mixed-use development where artists can live, work and play. Arts-related jobs and businesses showed positive growth during the recession years, according to the Thurston County Economic Development Council. Thurston County ranks first among all Washington counties in per-capita jobs related to the creative class of employment.

 • An Alcohol Impact Area will take effect Feb. 15. Businesses within this downtown area will no longer be allowed to sell certain high-alcohol drinks. The measure was approved last month by the state Liquor Control Board. Proponents say the ban on high-alcohol drinks such as Steel Reserve and Four Loko will reduce public intoxication and litter. Critics say the ban will have little effect and that customers will simply buy other beverages instead. The affected area’s approximate borders are Water Street to the west, Eastside Street to the east, Marine Drive and Olympia Avenue to the north, and 14th Avenue to the south.

According to Olympia’s Capital Facilities Plan, several “shovel-ready” projects are slated for construction in 2014:

 • The city will replace the aging playground equipment at Sunrise Park at 500 Birch St. SW. Construction is expected to start in May, with completion in September at a cost of $150,000. The park is about 20 years old, and the new playground will meet current safety and ADA standards.

 • Sidewalks and roundabout construction are slated for 22nd Avenue and Boulevard Road. One phase includes building a continuous sidewalk on the south side of 22nd Avenue, starting at Cain Road and connecting to the Boulevard Road roundabout. Plans include a sidewalk on the north side of 22nd Avenue from Wilson Street to Swanee Place. As for the roundabout, the goal is to improve traffic flow for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Total cost for these projects is about $6.5 million.

 • Other local transportation projects include a repaving of State Avenue from East Bay Drive to Central Street, with improved pedestrian access. Total cost is $2,783,400. A new sidewalk will be installed along West Bay Drive from Brawne Avenue North to Smyth Landing. Total cost is $2,768,000. In addition, the city has budgeted about $1.85 million to fix “pavement deficiencies” throughout Olympia.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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