Construction continues on the Walawàla Plaza gathering space, but due to winter weather, a portion of downtown Walla Walla will remain a construction site longer than planned.
The timeline for the finished plaza could be pushed back from the original April completion date.
“We’re optimistic that the plaza will be open in April, but realistically, we’re a few weeks late,” said Deputy Public Works Director Mike Laughery. “It’s all mud and gravel now.”
1st Street between East Main and East Alder is currently underway. Nelson Construction, the company contracted to complete the square, is working on the underground utilities. The next steps are the replacement of water pipes, installation of collection laterals and drainage of waste water. This is followed by the pouring of concrete.
Laughery said some of the most surprising things about the project are the number of old and abandoned connections left under the street.
“We’re building downtown all the time,” Laughery said. “There’s a lot left behind from other generations that isn’t used, but it’s never been removed.”
Once the previous steps are completed, the focus will shift to the intersection of Main Street and First Avenue. Paving will be changed to encourage vehicles to slow down and crosswalks will be changed to increase safety.
Final additions to the project include the addition of water fountains at either end of the plaza, paving to create a meandering path around landscaped trees and planted balsamic root sunflowers, concrete art inlays and outdoor seating for visitors.
The square’s fountains, art and scenery are meant to reference the square’s name, which roughly means “many small streams.” These elements, including the use of sunflower balsam root, also pay homage to the area’s historical significance as a gathering place for the Cayuse and Walla Walla peoples.
The plaza’s goal is to “continue to enhance the original feel of downtown,” Laughery said. “I guess this is one of the peaks of the pandemic.”
Walawàla Plaza was founded at the beginning of the pandemic as a space for people to gather outdoors with the possibility of social distancing. As in the past, it will continue to do so permanently.
Kathryn Witherington, executive director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, said the plaza is a popular spot for Valley residents and visitors. “People have realized how important it is to have a space where they can just be,” Witherington said. “I think the community will really decide how to use it.”
Sweet Basil Pizzeria is one of the businesses affected by the ongoing construction.
Cameron Wilkenson, an employee of the restaurant, said the winter months are an ideal time to build the plaza.
“The construction wasn’t too bad because it was done at the right time of year,” Wilkenson said. “We still managed to get through with the seats we have in there.”
The completed plaza will serve as a permanent gathering place for locals and visitors to enjoy downtown, according to gowallawalla.us. The space will also feature outdoor seating and shade structures, making it an ideal spot for a meal or relaxing in the sun.
“Hopefully it will be done in time so we have the ability to have more seating outside,” Wilkenson said. “That would be a positive effect on business.”
Hannah McIntyre writes business stories for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.