Gutted building in downtown Olympia gets a free face-lift

City workers volunteer to paint over Griswold graffiti

Staff writerApril 18, 2014 

A handful of city employees voluntarily took a vacation day Friday to help paint a neglected building in downtown Olympia.

In 2004, a fire gutted the Griswold Office Supply building on Fourth Avenue. Ten years later, some people say the vacant building is an eyesore and a magnet for trouble.

Brian Wilson, the city’s downtown liaison, helped coordinate Friday’s volunteer effort, which he called “a big first step” in creating a more positive environment.

“The condition it’s in is not acceptable,” Wilson said of the Griswold building, adding that no city resources were used on Friday’s project.

At least five city employees were among volunteers who painted the building’s upper façade. Also on the scene Friday was the Downtown Ambassador Program’s Clean Team, whose members took less than an hour to cover most of the graffiti in an adjacent alley. Volunteers had scrambled to organize Friday’s project in anticipation of rainy weather, Wilson said. The painting was originally set to coincide with the Olympia Downtown Association’s cleanup event Saturday.

The downtown cleanup is in advance of ArtsWalk, a bi-annual art fair, and Procession of the Species, a parade celebrating nature and Earth Day.

Three years after the fire, Everett resident Cliff Lee bought the building, but has struggled to finance renovations. Lee said he realizes that some people think his blighted building — and the graffiti it attracts — contributes to an unfavorable perception of downtown Olympia, specifically in the 300 block of Fourth Avenue.

“We’re trying to come up with something affordable,” said Lee, who supplied the paint Friday. “I’m not trying to sit on this thing and make it look worse.”

Lee said the timing for Friday’s project coincided with plans to remodel the entire building. Lee’s goal is to attract tenants in the software and green energy sectors. The building’s courtyard will become a performance space that Lee plans to open this summer.

“You’ll be amazed in the next month or so,” Lee said.

Along the building’s front is a mural by local artist Vince Ryland, who painted an ode to Boston Harbor and the waterfront. Downtown businesses had commissioned the mural shortly after the Griswold fire. In the coming weeks, there are plans to replace Ryland’s colorful but weathered mural, which has been vandalized. The new rainbow-themed banner and mural will display a “pro-Olympia” message intended to foster more respect for public property, Wilson said.

Rob Cameron, who owns Jake’s bar across the street, donated several supplies toward Friday’s project. The bar had opened the day after the Griswold fire. Cameron appreciates the effort to address blight and take another step at addressing the area’s problems.

“It seems like this block has pretty much been neglected,” he said while watching the painters climb ladders with their roller brushes. “I’m curious to see it when it’s finished.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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