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Enumclaw City Council hears opinions regarding possible downtown park

The potential purchase of a prime piece of real estate and development of a small downtown park was supposed to be on Monday night's City Council agenda, but an absent councilman put those plans on hold.

When the idea of buying the vacant lot at the corner of Cole Street and Myrtle Avenue was raised two weeks ago, the council deadlocked at 3-3. One councilman was missing and others questioned the $295,000 purchase price.

With Councilman Sean Krebs absent Monday, the council quickly agreed to put the topic on hold for another two weeks.

But that didn't stop six citizens from stepping to the microphone to weigh in on the issue. Five spoke in favor of park concept, including representatives of Arts Alive! and the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce.

"We think the park would be an excellence idea to enhance our town," Chamber Director Tracey McCallum said.

Offering a dissenting opinion was Darrel Dickson, a member of the city's Park Board. He noted Enumclaw is losing money at a couple of venues and has a major debt to pay off in the wastewater treatment plant.

As a business person, he said, "I would hope this council would focus on the things we really need."

He reminded everyone it's the public that would be on the hook for current and future costs associated with the park.

"We pay for the purchase of it, we pay for the improvements to it and we pay for the upkeep of it," he said, noting city taxpayers would provide the money along the way.

Mayor Liz Reynolds first raised the issue during the May 9 meeting of the council, noting that city administration had already negotiated a purchase price. She envisions the busy corner – where a Sears store and other businesses were lost during a dramatic blaze more than a decade ago – as a place where families can gather, shoppers can rest and downtown workers can relax. It could be a prime site for showing outdoor movies or hosting special events, she said.

Late in Monday's meeting, Councilman Jeff Beckwith again raised the issue, offering his view.

He suggested the city buy the land but stop short of calling it a park. Some minimal, inexpensive upgrades could perhaps make the corner lot available for public use, he said, but a permanent decision could wait for a few years. If the park idea eventually proves to be a good one, steps could be taken to fully develop the property; but if the economy turns around and a potential buyer appears to be a good fit, the city could sell the lot, Beckwith said.

With the issue returned to the table, Councilman Rich Elfers noted his belief that the city has long sought a way to revive its downtown core. A cozy park at Cole and Myrtle, he said, could be the centerpiece of such an effort.

In other action Monday night, the council:

• was told of a Library Information Day, planned for 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 7 in the public library's meeting room. The day will include both city representatives and members of the Enumclaw Library Board. The day is designed to provide a look at library alternatives and the final hour of the event is billed as a public forum on the library's future.

• heard the first reading of the Elk Meadows preliminary plat. The Elk Meadows project, part of a larger effort that was initiated in 2002, would turn 2.07 acres of land into a dozen lots designed for single-family homes. The land is on the northeast corner of the intersection of Warner Avenue and Watson Street. Because the item was on the agenda for a first reading only, no council action was required.

• received an update on the decade-old Welcome Center project from City Administrator Mike Thomas, who reported two obstacles seem to have been cleared. One trouble has been obtaining the necessary authorization, he said, but "we're well on the way to securing the state and federal permits we need."

A second obstacle was erased when it was determined the U.S. Forest Service could participate as a financial partner in the project.

Reynolds contributed to the conversation, noting the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce is again interested in becoming a tenant. The chamber was part of the original discussion, but pulled out when it appeared terms of the lease would be more than the chamber could afford.

Thomas said the city is dealing with a couple of other projects, so he could not state when construction might begin.

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