Olympia hears ideas on remaking its alleys

OLYMPIA — Some of Olympia’s downtown alleys could be improved with pavers, lighting and other amenities at an estimated cost of $400,000 to $450,000 per alley.

The Olympia City Council heard a presentation on the proposal, which has no funding, Public Works director Rich Hoey said. Mayor Stephen Buxbaum has pushed for alley improvements since he joined the council in 2010.

The city’s Heritage Commission and Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee have expressed support, according to a staff report.

“The goal of the alley project is to transform downtown alleys from a blighted condition — where drug use, public urination/defecation and other criminal activity is the norm — into safe, vibrant and welcoming public spaces,” the report says.

The improvements would include decorative resurfacing with pavers, suspended acorn-style light fixtures, alley naming signage, vegetation and street furniture and “green walls” to add vegetation, the report says.

Hoey said the old bricks that once surfaced the alleys are not in good shape or have been removed.

Two east-west alleys are proposed for starters. The alleys connect Capitol Way to Washington Street between Legion Way and Fourth Avenue. One is next to the La Gitana pizzaria, and the other between Hot Toddy and Popinjay.

Architect Ron Thomas gave the council a presentation of what the alleys could look like.

Brian Wilson, the city’s downtown liaison, said the architectural services were donated.

The alleys also are included in the city’s project to rename downtown alleys after the historic Mosquito Fleet. The late historian Roger Easton “spent a considerable amount of time doing research” to name the alleys after the steamships, Buxbaum said. The namings would cover six downtown alleys, he said.

Council members had mixed reactions to the proposal.

Buxbaum said the project is “aspirational,” and suggested the city put up one of the alley signs by Labor Day weekend, when the annual Harbor Days festival is held.

“I think we need to do something to reclaim the alleys and turn things around downtown,” he said.

Councilman Jim Cooper noted the sign would cost $5,000 and the city has the money for it.

The council voted 3-2 to install the sign. Council members Karen Rogers and Jeannine Roe voted against, citing the cost. Council members Jim Cooper, Steve Langer and Buxbaum voted for. Council members Julie Hankins and Nathaniel Jones were absent.

“I thought this project was more putting signs up in alleys,” Roe said. “I didn’t realize it actually was renovating full alleys. … I guess I have some pretty huge concerns about the cost.”

Rogers agreed, saying $400,000 “is a lot for one alley,” she said

She suggested that surrounding business owners help pay for it.

She asked Hoey whether the work would trigger costly cleanup of contaminated soil under an alley. Hoey said it’s possible.

Langer said he sees the improvements added incrementally, not all at once.

Cooper said, “I think this is really cool.”