Public space at artesian well has promise

July 10, 2013 

The creation of a gathering place at the artesian well site in downtown Olympia that includes food vendors and a covered stage and outdoor seating, sounds like a good idea to benefit downtown. Whether it will or not depends on who uses the space, and how.

This latest proposal from the city’s parks department is well intended and fits nicely with other actions that the City Council has taken to clean up and revitalize the downtown area. That list is long: curbing the sale of single-serve alcoholic beverages, walking police patrols, a volunteer ambassador program, parklet seating areas, a proposed alleyway project and an initiative to eliminate blighted properties.

And yet, council seemed to express vague reservations about the project, saying elements of the plan could easily be changed or adjusted, if necessary. We share some of the same concerns.

Mobile food vendors have already created a welcoming site farther east (uphill) from the artesian well site, at the intersection of Plum Street and Fourth Avenue. Four trucks offering a wide variety of ethic cuisine and a cupcake shop surround a naturally landscaped and elevated central seating area that blocks the noise and view of busy Fourth Avenue traffic.

The artesian well site lacks the softer amenities found off Plum Street. It is paved and defined by tall concrete walls of the adjoining businesses, and highly exposed to Fourth Avenue. Recreating the natural setting of the current food vendor site will require planters, and ongoing care and cost by city staff.

In terms of creating a welcoming ambiance, we don’t see how the artesian well site can compete with existing food trucks in a space already provided by the private sector.

The bigger question is who will use the new facility. Comparing the current users of each site presents a stark contrast. We imagine downtown businesses would consider the artesian well site an improvement if it attracted the more upscale crowd from Plum and Fourth. That’s a big if.

It’s just as likely the current artesian well site clientele would stay, thankful for better digs.

We’re also not sure who’s going to use the performance stage. Free public musical performances always liven up a city area, but the Olympian Downtown Association is unlikely to move its summer concert series out of the better-suited Sylvester Park.

Unless the city plans to underwrite performances for the stage, we wonder what activities will take place there. Ditto for the requisite public bathroom.

The project has the potential to become either a positive or negative attraction. It’s a gamble the council seems willing to take. We hope it’s successful.

What do you think?

Do you like the idea of food vendors, seating and a stage at the artesian well site? Why or why not? Send us your comment, in 150 words or less, toletters@theolympian.com with the subject line: artesian well. Please include your address or phone number for verification. A selection of responses will appear in print and online.

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