Thursday, June 17, 2010

Foundation Seeks Isthmus Park Funding

Above: View of the isthmus area and the "Mistake on the Lake" from the Washington State Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial on the Capital Campus.

By Janine Gates

The Olympia Capitol Park Foundation is now raising funds to acquire a portion of the isthmus between Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake for a public park.

Foundation representatives say a park located at the property between Fourth and Fifth Avenues would protect and improve the water and mountain views from and to the State Capitol campus.

“We believe that this vision for Olympia can be achieved through the combined efforts of private local contributions, support from private funding sources outside of Olympia, and governments,” says Jerry Reilly, chair of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation.

The idea for the park emerged after Triway Enterprises applied to the Olympia city council to rezone the isthmus to permit development of high-rise condominiums.

The idea for the park was not just to oppose the high-rise buildings, says Reilly, but to support a different and better vision for the isthmus. The goal was and is to protect and improve the views to and from the Capitol campus. This goal has been supported by thousands of Olympia residents and six former Washington State governors.

A citizens' initiative gathered over 5000 signatures and led the city council to conduct a feasibility study that found that a park on the isthmus was possible. Earlier this year, the new Olympia city council voted to restore the prior zoning and 35 foot height limit for the area.

A final resolution to the development, however, is still in doubt. Triway Enterprises believes it has a "vested" right to proceed under the rezone that was briefly in place during 2009. Reilly says he believes that the project is not "vested" and that the original re-zone was not legal.

“The only way, however, to assure that the views will be preserved forever is to move the land into non-profit or public ownership. We need to demonstrate to the city council, other potential government and private partners, and lenders who may be ready to provide bridge financing, that the people in the Thurston County community are willing to invest in the park proposal,” says Reilly.

The Isthmus and the Parks Plan

At Tuesday night's Olympia city council meeting, Jonathan Turlove, associate planner with the city Parks and Recreation program, gave councilmembers an update on the city's draft 10 year parks plan. The plan is updated every six years and is expected to be adopted by early September.

The draft plan contained no reference to a possible isthmus park, however, based on public feedback, a paragraph about it has been added. The paragraph simply states that the city supports the concept of a non-city funded isthmus park.

After Turlove's report, Councilmember Buxbaum took issue with the reference, saying, "I'm a little concerned with the way the wording is....The isthmus is a property that's been of great interest to a lot of people in the community. I would be in favor of recommending, or tweaking, the language that puts it in clearer standing representing community interests, such as a foundation taking the lead in creating a public/private partnership for development."

New councilmember Steve Langer agreed with Buxbaum, saying that he supports efforts already in play.

A public hearing on the parks plan will be held July 13, 7:00 p.m., during the council's usual meeting at Olympia City Hall. The final parks plan will be incorporated into the Parks chapter of Olympia's comprehensive plan, which is currently being updated.

Foundation Goals

The foundation has set an initial goal of raising two million dollars in contributions and pledges by the end of this year. Contributions are deductible for federal income tax purposes.

“We have a shorter term goal of raising $100,000 by August in order to have the funds that may be required for the execution of a purchase agreement with the support of bridge financing. We need contributions for both Foundation operating costs and property acquisition costs,” says Reilly.

Any fund balance from contributions made specifically for property acquisition would be returned to contributors in the event that they are not able to use the funds for the intended purpose. Pledges are intended to be redeemed over time, when needed for property acquisition.

Checks can be made payable to the Olympia Capital Park Foundation (OCPF) and sent to: P O Box 1964, Olympia, WA 98507. Pledges may be submitted by email to the Foundation Treasurer, Bob Thomas at

Olympia Capitol Park Foundation Vision Statement

The following is the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation Vision Statement:

Our vision is to preserve and protect the views to and from America’s most magnificent state Capitol Campus by working to develop the Olympia Isthmus as a great public space.

Vision Plan

- To protect the parcels of land on the Isthmus between Fourth and Fifth Avenues and the Heritage Park Fountain and the Deschutes Spillway by acquiring the land as a non-profit foundation with the goal of transferring the land to state or city ownership at the earliest opportunity.

-To remove the nine story “mistake by the lake” building and other blighted buildings on the parcels as soon as possible.

-To immediately beautify the area as a green space.

-To enter into a planning process with the community as to how to develop the area in the best possible way as a dynamic focal point for community activities. Many ideas have already been suggested including a wooden boat building exhibit, a Native American wood carving exhibit, a salmon festival facility, a merry-go-round, and even a heritage library.

-To consider the possibility of incorporating features on the Isthmus that could serve as part of a strategy to protect Downtown Olympia from the effects of rising sea level.

For more information about the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, go to

For more information on the draft Parks and Recreation plan, go to

For more information and pictures about the recent history of the isthmus property in this blog, go to Click on the search button and enter "isthmus" to save you a whole lot of time.

Above: Jerry Reilly, chair of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, listens to Senator Karen Fraser at a community forum about the isthmus in March of 2009.