Eatonville's new town centerpiece is giving officials and local business owners something to get excited about.
The Mount Rainier foothills town of about 2,300 residents earlier this month dedicated its Eatonville Town Square, a project that’s been in the works for about 10 years.
The 22,000-square-foot plaza on Mashell Avenue features a grassy commons area, public restrooms, parking and a visitor center with a view of the mountain.
Eatonville officials hope the public restrooms – among the first to open on the route from Tacoma to Mount Rainier – will entice travelers to make a pit stop.
“Hopefully it gives people an opportunity to detour into our historical town so they can stop, shop or maybe buy an ice cream cone,” Town Administrator Gary Armstrong said.
Few public restrooms are available on the route. Pierce County paid $50,000 to fund the restroom portion of Eatonville’s town square to help meet travelers’ needs.
The county also built public restrooms at its new Ashford County Park, which officials dedicated June 5, the same day Eatonville dedicated its Town Square.
The Eatonville square’s visitor center, which is set to open next month, will carry brochures advertising activities and destinations in and around Eatonville, Mayor Ray Harper said.
But beyond serving out-of-town guests, Eatonville leaders hope the town square will provide a community gathering place for locals. Officials plan to hold events there, such as a farmers market or open-air concerts.
“For us, this project was huge, because it’s the core of our downtown now,” Harper said. “It came out so nice – It’s already beginning to upgrade our downtown.”
John Bratholm, co-owner of Jebinos Italian Restaurant next door, said he’s hopeful the new addition will draw more business downtown.
“If they can direct traffic here because of the restrooms, it will be great for this street,” Bratholm said. “Normally, people bypass us on the way to Mount Rainier.”
The square is a big improvement over the vacant lot that used to be there, Harper said.
Formerly, the site was a Chevy dealership lot. Jebinos occupies the former showroom.
Eatonville paid for the $1.2 million project through a combination of federal stimulus money, grants from Pierce County and the Puget Sound Regional Council, and some of its own funds.
Town officials had hoped to complete the town square in time for Eatonville’s centennial celebration in October, but it took longer than expected to navigate federal rules that came along with their $588,000 federal stimulus award, Harper said.
Looking ahead, the town plans additional improvements to make downtown streets more pedestrian-friendly, Harper said.
The town is finishing design work for the reconstruction of Mashell Avenue; the roadway will be rebuilt and sidewalks, street lighting and landscaping installed.
Town officials are looking to make similar improvements to nearby Washington Avenue, minus the road reconstruction. The town is waiting to hear whether it will receive grant money from the Puget Sound Regional Council to fund that project, Armstrong said.
Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058 firstname.lastname@example.org