Posted February 12, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in News
 
 

From ‘Urban Blight’ to Public Sanctuary

West Central Park, located at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Division Street, is now in Phase One of development. Photo by BLAINE EWIG

West Central Park, located at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Division Street, is now in Phase One of development. Photo by BLAINE EWIG

The West Central Park Project Works to Reinvent Neglected Lot with Help from Volunteers

BY ISSAC SCOTT

The vacant lot at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Division Street is getting a makeover, thanks to a group of committed local residents. The West Central Park Project is working to renovate the long-neglected site into a new park that aims to serve as a hub for the Westside neighborhood.

Final plans for the West Central Park are ambitiously comprehensive. In the project’s vision for the park, visitors will grab lunch from food carts and enjoy lush vegetation, pathways, and benches designed by local artists. The park will host live music, and offer education on permaculture techniques with plaques showing how to garden sustainably at home. The group also intends to provide the only 24-hour public restrooms in the city.

Eventually, the project hopes to purchase the neighboring DiGarmo’s Pharmacy and convert the building into a cafe to provide income for the park.

Following a long history of controversial attempts to develop the site commercially, community activist Alicia Elliott purchased the corner lot in 2012 and formed the West Central Park Project to help invigorate the neighborhood she calls home. The non-profit group now owns the property and hosts volunteer work parties every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to develop the park. They invite everyone to come to the park and get involved.

west-central-park-plan_web

A blueprint of the development plans for the West Central Park.

 Elliott said the grim condition of the centrally located site motivated her to take action.

 “It seemed like a huge waste to me, bordering on urban blight in a neighborhood I perceived could be really beautiful, with small businesses, like downtown,” Elliott said. “I wanted a park. I didn’t want another place to demand money. An oasis, something away from the money-sucking greed train that goes through here.”

The project is part of a larger vision on the part of community members to enhance the Westside neighborhood with more local businesses and engaging public spaces. The City of Olympia has similar plans for the neighborhood, with new policies to encourage high-quality urban development along Harrison Avenue.

The West Central Park Project seeks to reverse the history of the site, fraught with controversy and mismanagement. Roland Lumber Company first built on the lot in the 1920s, but left the building empty in 1980. The dilapidated building caught fire in 1997 and was demolished with help from the city. A local resident bought the property and tried unsuccessfully to resell the site to commercial developers for more than 15 years, despite vocal community opposition to the development.

“I wanted a park. I didn’t want
another place to demand money.
An oasis, something away from the
money-sucking greed train that goes
through here.”
– Alicia Elliott

 In 2012, citizens campaigned against the commercial development, and pressured city officials to reverse their decision to allow the development to go forward. That’s when Elliott bought the property and formed the West Central Park Project. Because the City of Olympia doesn’t have resources for city parks, Elliott and like-minded community members took the initiative to invest private resources in creating a vibrant public sanctuary.

“I don’t invest in Wall Street at all,” Elliott said. “The only money I invest is directly, as much as I can, here in Olympia, where I live and where I raise my kids. We have an alternative economy here; we just need to nurture it. We have artisans and farmers of every kind here. We can survive with what we create here. We don’t even need to leave the town to get our needs met.”

Right now, the group is raising $152,500 to complete the project. They’re planning more fundraising events with food and live music at the park starting in the spring, building on their Bite of West Olympia event last summer.

“This park will be a treasure in 50 years if we do it right,” Elliott said.

For more information on the project and how to get involved, visit www.aparkforus.org.