Artesian Commons is ‘work in progress’ as problems plague downtown Olympia park

The Olympia City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate $25,000 toward improvements at Artesian Commons as the city explores ways to solve multiple problems at its newest downtown park.

The Artesian Commons opened May 3 in a parking lot at 415 Fourth Avenue, site of the historic artesian well. However, the city has received a steady stream of complaints related to unwanted behavior at the 0.2-acre park, including violence, vandalism and drug use.

The money approved Tuesday will go to the installation of a basketball hoop and fencing at the park, parks director Paul Simmons said. Simmons told the council the park needs more recreational opportunities and more programming to help curb destructive behavior.

Other suggestions from city parks staff include a ban on smoking at the park, postponing construction of a stage, and moving forward with a mural on the park’s west wall. The latter would be funded by the Parking and Business Improvement Area.

“It’s a park unlike any other park we’ve ever managed, developed or maintained,” Simmons told the council, noting the constant presence of park users and city staff at the site. “This is probably one of our most heavily utilized parks.”

Simmons also said the city has had difficulty securing food vendors for the park as originally planned. Food vendors have run into permit problems, he said, and have expressed interest in later hours of operation to cash in on the bar crowd.

The city has responded by extending park and restroom hours from dawn to dusk, adding late-night vending hours and installing video cameras, Simmons said. The city is also working with a local artist to paint a creek on the park’s ground, said Simmons, who expects that project to be finished by the end of September.

The ultimate goal is to create a safe and clean park that also meets the needs of the downtown community, Simmons said. Recent programs like the Play at the Well entertainment series and the National Night Out are effective tools for fighting the park’s problems, he said.

“Programming works,” he said. “It really creates a sense of hope to see what the park can be.”

The park’s problems have frustrated some people in the community, including Olympia resident Jeff Bert, who said the park is failing despite its intention to create a positive place downtown. Bert told the council that he sees disturbing behavior such as drinking and marijuana use at the park daily.

“I do feel there are a lot more things that could take place in order to make this a more welcoming place for everybody,” Bert said. “It’s sad to see it in this state.”

Councilwoman Jeannine Roe was among those on the council who expressed disappointment with the park’s shortcomings. Roe said she and some youths at the park helped paint over graffiti on the picnic tables.

“It’s intended for everyone to enjoy that park,” Roe said. “It’s definitely a work in progress. The direction that it’s going is only up.”