Does anyone want Sylvester Park?

State owns Sylvester, but lawmaker calls its litter, upkeep an unfair burden

Staff writerJanuary 16, 2014 

A lawmaker wants the state to transfer ownership of Sylvester Park to Olympia in an effort to save taxpayers money. City representatives think the park is just fine the way it is.

State Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, said Tuesday that he will initiate a study to determine whether the historic park is better off under city control.

Sylvester Park, which occupies one city block in downtown Olympia, is a popular “town square” for public gatherings, festivals and more. Although the state owns, manages and maintains Sylvester Park, the site is essentially used as a city park, Reykdal said.

Reykdal said the park places an unfair burden on state taxpayers when “it’s our city’s homeless and drug users causing vandalism” and littering the park with needles.

“Sometimes the state government has an impact on our city, and sometimes the city has an impact on state government,” said Reykdal, who hopes this year’s study will set the stage for changing the park’s ownership in 2015. “I just want a better dialogue.”

The state spends about $100,000 a year on Sylvester Park, said Jim Erskine, spokesman for the Department of Enterprise Services. About $50,000 of that pays salaries for groundskeeping and maintenance workers. Their duties include mowing lawns and removing graffiti.

About $40,000 helps cover a contract with the Washington State Patrol, which is responsible for law enforcement at the park as part of the Capitol Campus. The remaining money covers utilities such as electricity and water, along with miscellaneous operating costs, Erskine said.

From a law enforcement perspective, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said officers already work in tandem with the State Patrol when incidents arise at the park. However, he opposes the park’s transfer to city ownership because police resources are already strained.

“No, I don’t want it,” Roberts said. “I don’t see a reason to take it on.”

Paul Simmons, director of Olympia’s Parks Department, said the city wants Sylvester Park to remain under state control. Concerns include extra labor costs related to maintenance and management if the city owned the park.

“Having Sylvester Park under the state’s leadership kind of helps keep us all connected, so to speak,” Simmons said. “It hasn’t been identified by the public as a high priority to assume management of that park.”

Sylvester Park was named after Olympia founder Edmund Sylvester, who donated the land for the park. Other state-owned parks in Olympia include Heritage Park and Marathon Park.

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