Olympia shutters downtown park: ‘If it’s not safe for our staff, it’s not safe for anybody’

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Acts of violence and escalating threats are to blame for the sudden closure of a South Sound park.

City officials in Olympia say threats against employees is what spurred the closure of Artesian Commons Park.

It’s not just park employees, people who work or run businesses nearby say the park has been a magnet for problems.

“As a business owner it’s tough because you’re just trying to ply your wares and do a good job and make some money,” said business owner Brad Thompson.

Thompson’s restaurant is literally across the street from the Artesian Commons.

His restaurant, Our Table, has been open for just over three years and he says the problems that come with the park have sometimes pushed away business.

“Drug trafficking, fights and just dangerous behavior,” he said.

“This is in response to very recent direct threats towards staff and neighboring businesses,” said city parks director Paul Simmons. “Unfortunately it’s not safe to operate as initially intended.”

New fencing, lighting, security cameras and even basketball hoops didn’t do enough to make sure this park was safe for everyone.

“The hope was that we would start to see maybe a trend in the right direction again and, unfortunately, we haven’t seen that,” added Simmons.

In 2016, a new park ranger and a seasonal well host were hired to discourage bad actors in the park – the program was modeled after Seattle, according to Simmons.

But in recent weeks, parks staff complained of escalating threats of violence so officials threw in the towel and shuttered the park.

“If it’s not safe for our staff, it’s not safe for anybody inside the park,” said Simmons.

The artesian well and the 24-hour public restroom will for now stay open to the public.

Some who work nearby say they hope the indefinite closure will be brief, and that the city will find something positive to fill the void. But some worry the park is only a symptom of a larger problem – and the challenges will only move to other areas of the city. Still, it’s a welcome change for some business owners.

“Right now we’re dealing with a tough situation and we put it off for a long time,” said Thompson. “Let’s start dealing with it.”

City officials say it will be working with other agencies to make sure the closure doesn’t negatively impact surrounding streets.