Community and Economic Development

The Olympia City Council has identified community and economic development as a principal focus. Our community has weathered difficult economic times. Lost jobs and businesses, diminished purchasing power, stressed families, and a depressed local economy have marked the past several years — we are emerging from a serious recession. Just how we do that matters.

To help get it right, Olympia has established a special Revitalization Committee, we’ve hired a Director of Economic Development, and we are integrating economic development into every city department. Economic development is not simply recruiting for new jobs. What attracts people and businesses to a community is the quality of life. Olympia has much to offer: we have great schools, a great shoreline setting, great people with skills and talents, good housing, a vibrant arts community, and a tradition of active involvement in community affairs. This is a great place to live.

Our community has excellent potential in key industries, such as health care, professional services, telecom, tourism, and food production. We have excellent resources in higher education, in transportation, and in a skilled work force. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Olympia; we are the cultural center of South Puget Sound.

But as a community, we are not meeting our potential — we have a number of challenges. Our Downtown is underperforming, state government growth is small, revenues for the Port of Olympia marine terminal missed projected levels by 43% in the first half of 2015, and our wages are essentially stuck. We need to move Olympia forward by encouraging private investment, by growing family-wage jobs, and by building on our strengths.

Neighborhood Organizations

Neighborhood organizations are well suited to deal with issues close to home, where we live, and where we raise our families. Recently the City has taken the lead to involve neighborhoods in shared decision-making and local determination. Through a process with the bureaucratic name of “sub-area planning” the City has invited neighbors to help describe how they want their neighborhood to look, function, and feel. These plans are the building blocks for the future.

Olympia’s recognized neighborhood associations are highly diverse. While several Olympia neighborhoods have formed effective organizations, other neighborhoods have no organization at all, which is a loss to both city government and local residents. Because of the important role these organizations play, we need to continue building neighborhood associations throughout Olympia.

Our community’s vision for smart growth and infill development challenges us to create a more livable community while achieving greater densities. Existing neighborhoods must be respected as our goals for a changed urban design come to fruition. To be successful, we need more dynamic and capable neighborhood organizations serving local residents.

Neighboring Governments

The communities of Thurston County have a strong and proud tradition of cooperation and support. Successful relationships depend upon open communication, mutual benefits, clear expectations, shared ownership, and active engagement.

There is a strong set of shared services in place which crosses local boundaries and saves taxpayers money. Some examples include: the LOTT Clean Water Alliance, InterCity Transit, the Economic Development Council, Animal Services, Medic One, and several others. This sort of efficiency benefits everyone, as long as we make sure that Olympia’s values are upheld in the process.

I have experience working across jurisdictional boundaries. Most of my professional career has involved working on regional issues with many different stakeholders, including local governments, tribes, and state agencies. And in the past four years I have put that experience to work through cooperative agreements, and interjurisdictional coordination. Whenever Olympia shares common goals and common challenges with its neighbors, I will bring the leadership necessary to build good working relationships.

Growth Management

The citizens of Olympia have embraced growth management since the early 1990s. Our recently refreshed Comprehensive Plan again sets growth management as a fundamental goal for our community. Olympians want more compact development within the city limits, while protecting the rural character of Thurston County – we want to stop sprawl.

Yet sprawling urbanization is the reasonable outcome of existing market incentives. Projections show current trends will result in the loss of 32 percent of Thurston County’s farmlands to urbanization by 2035, and without change we will have difficulty creating vibrant urban centers that attract innovative businesses and residents. On the other hand, smart growth brings much greater efficiencies in infrastructure and public services, thereby saving taxpayer’s dollars and improving our quality of life, while protecting timber, farm, and habitat areas.

We can have a more compact city without compromising the character of our neighborhoods. There are several opportunities for existing commercial centers to accept more density and grow up, not out. Downtown Olympia is ripe for the revitalization that comes with such investment. And we can do this while honoring the character and history of these areas. Growth management will work for Olympia if we work regionally and adjust land use policies to achieve our goals.

Change is Coming to Downtown

Your involvement can help shape what happens in Downtown Olympia. Several exciting projects are moving ahead and the City wants residents to be involved. The Downtown Strategy is a planning effort to guide urban design throughout Downtown. There will be opportunities for you to tell designers what you want. You can help build Olympia.

Changes started with the demolition of the Housing Authority building, across the street from Bayview Grocery. Removal of the nearby Health Department building will happen soon. And next, the vacant GHB Insurance building and the Little DaNang building on Water Street will come down. These buildings are in public ownership and have been in bad shape for years. The Water Street demolitions will remove blank walls which turn their backs to the Heritage Fountain Park. Their removal will open the park to the east and open new possibilities for redevelopment.

Olympia is accepting proposals for redevelopment of the Water Street area between 4th and 5th Avenues. The City is looking for a partner to create a mix of retail, commercial, and residential uses, supported by parking. This project will build upon the momentum of nearly 250 new market-rate housing units spread throughout Downtown. The project will invigorate the livability of Downtown and secure its place as the social, cultural, and economic center of the region.

In addition, the new state budget includes $950,000 for needed bulkhead repairs at Percival Landing. The shoreline under the boardwalk will be reworked to remove the risk of instability. This funding is good news and will help maintain the oldest section of the Landing, one of Downtown’s greatest assets.

All this change is being undertaken with input from community members – get involved and make a difference — You can help build Olympia.

Metropolitan Parks District

Olympia has an excellent history of preserving parks and open space. Priest Point, Watershed, and Grass Lake Parks are a great legacy from the past. In recent years, Olympia’s park system has faltered. Even with enthusiastic community support for parks, the system has been in decline. As our population continues to grow, open spaces continue to be converted to commercial and residential purposes, yet the parks system remains static. Much of the park system is not being maintained to current standards.

What is needed is a dedicated source of funding for parks — including our trail network, habitat lands, and open space. The creation of a Metro Parks District will do just that. As proposed, district revenue cannot be directed to other purposes and existing parks funding will not be reduced. Voters can be comfortable knowing that their support for parks will not be diverted.

We will need green spaces in a more compact city. As our population grows we will need more recreational opportunities inside Olympia. Olympia has lost 30 percent of its habitat area over the past 20 years. We can stop this loss by protecting our remaining resources. Our bike and pedestrian trails are excellent, but we need greater connectivity if they are to meet their potential. And our children and our families need space to play, to relax, and to soak up the beauty of this lovely city.

Please join me in supporting the creation of an Olympia Metropolitan Parks District.