How to build a parklet in downtown Olympia
By Matthew Green
A new park is being built on Fifth Avenue in downtown Olympia. And by “on” Fifth Avenue, we mean on Fifth Avenue. Two parking spaces between Washington and Franklin Streets, in front of Darby’s Cafe and across the street from the Capitol Theater, are being converted into a “parklet” with partially-covered public seating.
The bricks used for the construction “are the old cobble bricks that used to be on the road in Olympia,” says Sara Reilly, owner of Darby’s, who is building the parklet with her husband (and the other co-owner), Nathan Reilly. The bricks have been sitting in storage for years, and part of the plan was to build the parklet as much as possible from re-used materials. Two 10-foot wooden pews from a church in Seattle will be the seats. Recycled sailboat sails will be made into canopies. “That fits in with the Olympia maritime theme,” says Sara, “as well as being reclaimed.”
There will also be covered bike parking, and fresh herbs (provided by Anne Buck of Buck’s Fifth Avenue) grown in planters and available for the public to pick.
The Reillys will be “stewards” of the parklet, but it will not be for the exclusive use of their cafe. It will have public seating, not cafe tables.
The project is part of the City of Olympia’s “place-making effort,” says Brian Wilson, the City’s Downtown Liaison. Another parklet will soon be built on Fourth Avenue in front of Jake’s; that one will be “really modern and slick-looking,” says Wilson. The art recently installed at the artesian fountain was also part of the same place-making effort.
Funding for the parklet came from the PBIA, which granted $3500 out of the annual fees paid by downtown business and property owners. The Reillys were required to match that in labor costs.
The Reillys say they the comments of passers-by have been “99% positive” so far, with just a couple negative comments about parking. Wilson notes that the City has added six downtown parking spaces in recent months, more than making up for the four that will be lost to the two parklets. Also, technically, the parklet is a temporary structure and could be removed relatively easily if that were desired.
“Definitely, this is prime parking for someone who wants a bite to eat [at Darby’s], but we’re willing to make that trade,” says Nathan.
“The big picture is to get people to come downtown because it’s cool,” says Sara. “This is just a little piece of that.” On a recent Saturday, even though construction of the parklet blocked a third parking space, the sidewalk in front of Darby’s was nonetheless packed with customers waiting to get in and undeterred by fear of parking – and thus proving her point. ◙