Editorials

Things are looking up in Olympia downtown

A revamping project to the long-vacant Griswold's building in downtown Olympia is scheduled
A revamping project to the long-vacant Griswold's building in downtown Olympia is scheduled sbloom@theolympian.com

Like a home built stick by stick, the building blocks of a better life in downtown Olympia are starting to add up. There’s still a ways to go but the big-picture trend is good.

Strong voter approval of a public safety tax on Nov. 7 was another huge step forward for the capital city. Just as important is the Community Care Center, which opened along State Avenue last month.

The care center project — located in the home of a former craft supply store — provides a spot where homeless people and others in need can go for mental health help, other medical evaluation, or referrals to social service agencies. It’s not a shelter, or a hang-out, but a genuinely proactive services hub.

The Providence St. Peter Hospital foundation and local nonprofit groups deserve our community’s deepest thanks for making this investment.

That is not all. Redevelopment is in the works for the city-owned Griswold’s office supply store site that has been a blight since it burned down 13 years ago. It was encouraging news recently that construction may begin in 2018.

Two other city programs of lesser impact should also bring more dignity to downtown streets. This helps the shop owners, other denizens and those who go there to shop.

First a 24-hour toilet opened during the summer at the Artesian Commons. This city-owned park is open to the public but frequented by many homeless and street people.

The permanent bathroom is designed to be easy to clean and also to monitor for illegal activity. It is a drastically better option than the portable potty it replaced.

Time will tell how it catches on with shoppers who need a loo downtown during the day and evening hours.

Another upgrade is in the works the Downtown Ambassadors program. This program helps keep streets and sidewalks cleared of human waste and other debris. The city is looking to hire a new agency to manage the job.

Lastly, Olympia voters took an important step by approving Proposition 1 two weeks ago. Prop. 1 raises property taxes modestly next year to pay for police walking patrols in the downtown. It also lets the city hire trained mobile units to respond to people in crisis on the streets, and to continue the city court innovations that help steer offenders onto a better path.

All of these steps are essential pieces of the years-long campaign to improve livability and boost the vitality of Olympia’s downtown business districts.

The visible slew of market-rate housing erected in downtown is another step toward creating a more vibrant downtown.

Unfortunately, the casual talk about downtown has not turned enough for the better. Several candidates we interviewed for Olympia City Council seats told us they were still hearing from residents who avoid the downtown — some out of fear.

So while things are changing in the downtown, and public safety in some locations is a concern, we look forward to seeing the next steps. It would be great if the city could find a way to restore the patrols this holiday season.

But to make a lasting difference, Olympians must give their downtown a second chance. We hope to see more friends and neighbors exploring it this holiday season.

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