The changing face of downtown Olympia

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The changing face of downtown Olympia

Anew businesses are moving in, and Olympia is growing upward with mixed-use buildings serving as hubs of activity. New visitors who have become residents fill the shops and restaurants. Energy from new business ventures, urban design principles and organized support keep it thriving.

The concept is not entirely new to Olympia. Many historic Olympia buildings have mixed-use features, such as street-level entries with a mailbox bank and stairs inside. Look up from the street to see the apartments above the storefronts. Owners and employees can live close to work and services. The changing face of the city center is a reinvestment in one of its earlier forms, but at a level that meets the needs of a growing population, while also maintaining the city center’s historic features.

Walkability brings residents and visitors to the Olympia Waterfront

Sidewalks and promenades allow the ease of movement between business, residential and leisure spaces in the city center to flow well. Intersections along Franklin Street have new sidewalks with curbs that protrude wider at intersections that keep pedestrians visible and slow cars down narrower aisles. Crossroads in the area are brighter and more visible. Street front businesses with large glass entries, public art, new planter areas and trees invite pedestrians.

tree-lined street in Olympia
The changing face of the city center is a reinvestment in one of its earlier forms of residential space over retail. Downtown residents can reach downtown services, restaurants, and work on foot or by public transportation. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

“Living downtown and having housing is key for any city across the country,” said Greene Realty Group agent and Cove restaurant co-owner Justin Hjelm. “I’m excited that people who want to live in the Olympia area can live their lives in such an urban environment. The Harbor Heights building, just north of us there, they’re a large percentage of the restaurant’s customers in the first month we’re open. It’s great to see.”

“A lot of people complimented us, ‘Hey, that’s a great vibe and atmosphere!'” Hjelm says of the Cove Restaurant. “Our chef is great and has really put together what we’re looking for. I try to focus more on the front of the house and let the back of the house be in this between my chef and my partner, and they hit it out of the park in my opinion.”

“People are seeing the transformation of the space,” he continues. The building was once occupied by The Royal club and later Rhythm and Rye. “For the last 15 years, a lot of us spent a lot of time in that space enjoying our 20s. It’s quite nostalgic for them to come back and see the transformation.”

Mixed-use building Lurana at Percival Landing

sidewalk and side of the Lurana at Percival Landing
Street front businesses with large glass entries, public art, new planter areas and trees invite pedestrians. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Overlooking Budd Inlet and the marina, the Lurana building stands where a Les Schwab used to stand at State and Columbia streets. Lurana houses 44 apartments and 1,500 square feet of retail and office space with ground-level parking below and a bus stop across the street. Retail space is included, with Row Restaurant, offering a walk-up window, indoor or patio dining and Bittersweet Chocolates on an easy access corner.

Efforts have also been made to make Lurana, and other new mixed-use buildings, reflect traditional downtown styles. Similar to many existing buildings, their facades do not run long like mini-malls, but instead have divisions in design after every unit or two. Brick exterior and second story windows, just above canopies are imitations of downtown historic building features.

Fifth mixed-use views and futuristic parking

The shimmering, glass-blue Views on Fifth building at Capitol Lake draws many looks for its art and adaptable, progressive design. Two new structures at its base, display traditional brickwork and smoothly temper the elevation down to street level. Sidewalks, a passageway between buildings, ground-level retail spaces and a wide wooden canopy all express a welcoming walkability.

Fish art on the Views on Fifth building at Capitol Lake
The shimmering, glassy blue Views on Fifth building at Capitol Lake draws many looks for its art and adaptable, progressive design. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Street-level businesses, Shear Barber Shop, Taylor Ray’s Café, Van Tuinen Art Gallery, Full Spectrum Chiropractic and The 411 on 4th serve visitors as well as the residents of the 140 apartments above. Furthermore, some of the units are live workspaces. The four-story, automated parking garage eliminates the need for asphalt parking lots.

“Many locals walk by the Oyster House, along with out-of-town visitors,” says community manager Kevin Chase at the Views on Fifth. “They are always drawn to us by our fish on the side of the building and our blue glass windows along with our ‘Tours Here’ sign. Residents love the convenience of being in a building where they can walk wherever they want, go to the grocery store, take a leisurely stroll around Capitol Lake, or maybe even explore downtown. Not only do we have the Taylor Ray’s Café here on the premises, but we will also soon have our steakhouse restaurant.”

Views of the fifth building in Olympia from across the street
Views on Fifth has retail shops on Fourth and Fifth avenues, a new steakhouse restaurant is planned, and all are pedestrian friendly. An automated parking garage eliminates large outdoor parking spaces. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

The right layout and organization are elements of creating and maintaining a thriving and functional urban space. In addition, Downtown Olympia Alliance is an active voice for their downtown member businesses. Inquiring about what businesses need to thrive there, equips the organization with concerns to present to local and state leaders.

For more information on shopping, dining and experiences that you can get to on foot and provide support for a clean, safe and vibrant downtown to visit, check out the Downtown Olympia Alliance website. Then step out to see what’s new and changed.

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