A Downtown Strategy meeting was cut short Monday night after a group of protesters entered The Olympia Center, chanting about gentrification and playing instruments.
Four people were involved in an altercation outside of the building after the meeting was canceled, said Olympia Police Lt. Paul Lower.
A 72-year-old woman and a 71-year-old man exited the building and were confronted by two protesters, both 20-year-old men, who were using vulgar language, Lower said. The 71-year-old man allegedly grabbed one of the protesters, put him in a headlock and punched him. The other protester threw the man to the ground.
Two Olympia police officers had responded to the protest, and when they exited The Olympia Center, they saw the 71-year-old man and one of the 20-year-old men getting up off of the ground, Lower said.
No one was seriously injured and no one wanted to pursue charges, he said.
Lower called the altercation “disappointing.”
“This workshop was designed to talk about the things that can be done to make downtown a vibrant destination point for our city,” Lower said. “And when these kinds of physical outbursts happen, that’s not helpful.”
About 60 people attended the meeting, in which Olympia residents discussed the effects that downtown development would have on views of the Capitol and Puget Sound, said Keith Stahley, the city’s community development and planning director.
The meeting was part of a larger Downtown Strategy process, in which the community and city officials are establishing goals and priorities for downtown for the next five to six years.
Stahley said the meeting had been going well when about a dozen people entered the large room, chanting, playing horns and banging on drums. The protesters paraded through the room and took the microphone.
One of the protesters commented about gentrification before the sound system was turned off, Stahley said.
“I think they’re concerned about downtown changing, and their ability to live there,” Stahley said. “I don’t think our agenda for the night was necessarily their objective.”
City officials called a 15-minute recess, during which they met with police officers and decided not to continue the meeting.
“It was threatening and hostile, and inconsistent with the way Olympia conducts business,” Stahley said. “They came in with no intention of participating.”
Stahley said the city still intends to collect feedback from the community about views, but the meeting hasn’t yet been rescheduled.
He said Monday’s meeting was the third public meeting on Downtown Strategy — and the other meetings went forward without disruption. He said that in his 11 years working for the city of Olympia and his 31 years working in government, he’s never had to cancel a meeting.
“I’ve definitely had meetings that didn’t go well, but this was a first for me,” Stahley said.