About two years ago, Alicia Elliott, tired of seeing a vacant lot in west Olympia day after day after day as she drove her children to school, finally took action. She bought the lot at Harrison Avenue and Division Street and turned it into a community park.
It since has become known as West Central Park, home to outdoor movie nights on Mondays and volunteer work groups that show up Sundays to help keep the park in order. But now Elliott has a much grander vision, one that could see her acquire the entire block, from Harrison Avenue to Fourth Avenue, and from Cushing Street to Division Street.
But here’s what’s happened so far: Elliott since has deeded the park property to a nonprofit organization called the West Central Park Project, which oversees the park, and so far has a nine-member board, which could grow to 12 under its bylaws. Elliott, 49, is board president.
She also has purchased the property next door to the park, which currently is home to what used to be DeGarmo’s Compounding Pharmacy, and has bought property near DeGarmo’s. And she’s in discussions with other owners of property along the block.
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The purchase of the park and related property was made possible by an inheritance she received from her mother, she said.
Once she got the ball rolling on the park, she started to hear from the other owners. She, too, didn’t expect to expand beyond the park, but now it’s happening, Elliott said.
“It’s happening, and I’m stepping up to the plate,” she said.
DeGarmo’s is set to be used as a cafe as well as a commercial kitchen to serve planned food trucks for the site. Ideas for the rest of the block, if everything goes through, are to bring retail businesses without changing the character of the block and to add a small amount of parking, she said.
Dennis Lyon, who has done design work for the park, added Tuesday that a storage shed, bathrooms and covered stage also are planned. Lyon and several other volunteers were removing tree stumps Tuesday from a section of property near the park.
Lyon, a friend of Elliott’s, has done design work for her home. He thought Elliott was crazy when she shared her idea with him about bringing a park to that corner, but he also told her that he wanted to get involved.
Plenty of people were helping out Tuesday, including representatives from Olympia City Church, Sound City Church and a related organization, all of whom are volunteering their time in the Olympia area this week, including at the park Tuesday.
One of those helping out was Patrick Pulley, a pastor at Olympia City Church who also lives on the city’s west side. He said he drives by the park every day and wanted to help out, impressed with the vision for the park and that it’s for and run by the community.
Elliott said she is aware of a few park criticisms — that it’s in the wrong place or that it doesn’t look like a park, or that bathrooms will generate the wrong kind of traffic. But Elliott pointed out that the park is on such a visible corner and there is so much community engagement about the park, she expects any unusual activity at the park will be kept in check.
“There is an incredible energy in the park,” she said.
If you want to get involved, work parties meet Sundays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at the park.