Submitted by City of Olympia
The Artesian Commons Park will close indefinitely beginning Friday, August 24. The closure follows increasing concerns for staff safety after multiple, serious and escalating threats directed at Parks personnel working at the park.
Access to the Artesian Well water will continue, and the 24-hour restroom will remain open; however, the actual park space will be closed.
The City opened the Artesian Commons Park in 2014, and the space has been challenging to manage from the beginning. The Park has consistently been troubled with violent incidents, verbal altercations, nuisance behaviors, and mental health emergencies. The community and neighboring businesses have expressed concerns with the park since its opening.
“Over the past four years, we have invested as many resources as available and put in place as many creative strategies as we could think of trying to make this a successful Downtown park,” said Paul Simmons, director of the Parks, Art and Recreation Department. “Unfortunately, the problematic behaviors have continued and the threats towards staff have escalated. We have decided to close the park because the safety of our staff and patrons must come first.”
In 2016, the department hired a seasonal park ranger and a seasonal Well host to provide activities, discourage negative behaviors and make the park welcoming for all visitors. The program was modeled after one used in downtown Seattle.
Over the last three years, the Parks Department implemented several strategies to improve the conditions of the park, starting with forming an Artesian Leadership Committee comprised of stakeholders from the community, businesses, and other City departments.
Implemented strategies included:
- Increasing the staffing and programming from eight hours a day, five days a week, to 10 hours a day, seven days a week
- Lighting improvements, adding fencing, gates, and installing six security cameras
- Hiring security staff to close the gates in the evening
- Limiting the operating hours to set times
- Adjusting the site staff schedules to later in the evening and increasing staff training
- Employing regular communication with partners and forming an interdepartmental agreement
- Tracking of data related to maintenance and operations of the park
While the strategies have helped at certain times, they have failed to improve the day-to-day environment of the park. The challenges have escalated beyond the ability of the Parks, Arts and Recreation Department to operate the space as it was intended.
With the park’s closure, the City will take a step back and evaluate the short-term and long-term options for what comes next. In the meantime, City staff will be working with local partners and neighboring businesses to help mitigate potential impacts the closure of the park could have on the surrounding area.