OLYMPIA - Each January at its council retreat, the Olympia City Council pins down its priorities for the new year. Coming into this year, the council identified 11 goals, topped by parking issues, major construction projects and the use of federal stimulus money.
Following is a look of which of those goals were accomplished in 2009 and which weren’t.
Rocked by economic malaise, city leaders were pondering how to get a slice of the federal stimulus money that was about to trickle out of the nation’s capital.
“The council said, ‘Gee, there’s money out there; get us some of it,’” City Manager Steve Hall said during a year-end presentation to the council this month.
Councilwoman Karen Messmer brought it up as a priority; she was particularly concerned about funding a project to build three roundabouts on Boulevard Road – at Log Cabin Road, 22nd Avenue and Morse Merryman Road – to bolster safety.
By year’s end, the city had received more than $4 million in stimulus funds, City Manager Steve Hall said. Of that, $1.2 million went to paving Union Avenue between Capitol Way and Plum Street and adding sidewalk-accessibility improvements. An additional $500,000 went to the city’s downtown commuter program, which is aimed at reducing the number of car trips. Hall reported receiving more than $2.3 million in miscellaneous federal grants and $1.87 million in loans.
The council also approved nearly $25 million in local transportation spending from local funds, billed as a local stimulus project. The project includes a roundabout at Boulevard and Log Cabin roads and roundabouts on 18th Avenue at Fones and Hoffman roads. Also included: widening Harrison Avenue from Yauger Way to the College Station subdivision near Kaiser Road.
Hall said the roundabout on Boulevard at Log Cabin is set to be complete in June.
BIG CAPITAL PROJECTS
Mayor Doug Mah suggested this priority because the city was slated to build a new City Hall, a new Hands On Children’s Museum and the city’s fourth fire station, in northeast Olympia. The city broke ground on the City Hall, in the 600 block of Fourth Avenue East, this year and celebrated topping off the building this month.
City offices will move the new building, which will consolidate much of what now is spread among 13 buildings, in early 2011.
The Hands On Children’s Museum is set to begin construction next year next to East Bay and open by the end of 2011. The fire station is set to open on Stoll Road in April, and a fire training center is set to open next summer.
Another huge project, long in the planning stages, will begin construction next year: the first phase of replacing the deteriorating Percival Landing boardwalk.
Councilman Joe Hyer named this as a priority. The council long has discussed ending the free-parking zone downtown, which would compete against a new parking garage, another city priority. After spending thousands on consultants, the council decided against pursuing a parking garage because of the bad economy.
Instead it will focus on surface and street parking. The council agreed to end the 90-minute free-parking zone next year but dropped the monthly rate for nine-hour meters from $75 to $60. The formerly free spaces are set to have new “pay boxes” that accept credit cards and issue receipts by the end of March.
The city also finalized a land swap with Intercity Transit, gaining two new lots, and created a new special parking permit for commuters.
SECURING A WEST BAY TRAIL
Messmer also stressed building a trail along West Bay as a priority. The city has been trying to obtain a trail along West Bay but has run into concerns from the Squaxin Island Tribe about habitat. Work continues, Councilman Craig Ottavelli said.
The city did break ground on phase one of West Bay Park, which will include benches and small walking paths and is set to open early next year.
Council members Rhenda Strub and Jeff Kingsbury pushed for creating the city’s first off-leash dog park as a priority. They were successful; the park will open next year at Sunrise Park, 505 Bing St. N.W. The city also worked with Thurston County, which will open its dog park at about the same time on the site of an old landfill near Marvin Road and Interstate 5.
BRINGING ARTSPACE TO TOWN
Strub and especially Kingsbury have focused on luring Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit agency that builds housing for artists, to build a project in Olympia. They have met with some success; the group agreed to a two-day visit and met with more than 300 people in a community meeting. Artspace is interested in beginning an in-depth study of building a work-live space for artists in downtown Olympia, but the city likely would bear much of the cost, which could exceed $700,000.
The project is on hold; its fate lies with the 2010 City Council, which includes three newly elected members.
Councilman Craig Ottavelli and former Councilwoman Joan Machlis pushed for this initiative. Olympia’s downtown artesian well, in a parking lot owned by Diamond Parking, was in danger of closing at the end of February because the nonprofit group Friends of the Artesians, which paid to test the water there, was shutting down.
But a new group called H2Olympia: Artesian Well Advocates formed and lobbied the city and the Thurston County Public Utilities District to forge a solution with Diamond Parking. The PUD now tests the water, the city pays for it, and the well remains open. But there still is no long-term solution to save the well.
WEST SIDE LIBRARY PLAZA
Ottavelli advocated creating a new public plaza on the city’s west side, anchored by a new branch of the Timberland Regional Library. A group of volunteers called the West Olympia Community Visioning Group has looked for suitable real estate and recently received 501(c)3 nonprofit status, Ottavelli said.
Putting a library there is on the back burner, he said, because Timberland faces major cuts due to the failure of a voter funding measure this year. There are doubts about its ability to supply a library there, but Ottavelli said space for a library could be allotted in the plaza, which would accommodate events such as summer music concerts. He said work continues on property acquisition.
Bringing in economic development staff is another big priority. The City Council agreed to pay Heartland LLC, a Seattle real- estate consultant, up to $85,000 to help find a private developer for a parking garage, as well as work on other downtown priorities.
Hyer pushed the “clean-clothes” initiative, an effort to ensure that governments aren’t using clothes made in sweatshops. The city joined the Sweatfree Communities organization.
Mayor Doug Mah made this a priority. He sits on the board of LOTT, the multi-jurisdictional sewer utility, which is promoting the use of reclaimed water that is treated but not suitable for drinking. It’s also known as “purple pipe” because of the color of the conduits that distribute it.
At the beginning of 2009, Mah said the city should support expanding purple pipes to serve the west side, such as the auto mall and hotels. A purple pipe was extended up Lakeridge Drive to Olympia’s west side in a major project that closed a stretch of that road for several weeks this year.
Another initiative, to extend reclaimed water to the Capitol Campus, wasn’t funded because of state funding shortfalls, a city report says.