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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014

St. Pete agrees to explore plan for a regional skate park


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This city is hardly welcoming to skateboarders, who are banned from using their boards downtown.

Nonetheless, city leaders, with tentative plans for a regional skate park, are hoping St. Petersburg can become a magnet for skateboarders.

City council leaders on Thursday agreed to explore building a 40,000-square-foot skate park, with possible locations including Spa Beach and the approach to a redesigned pier. Backers of the project, including Councilman Karl Nurse, said it would bring a different set of visitors to the city and diversify a downtown that caters mainly to older affluent residents.

“We’ve obviously stumbled into something that there is a lot of interest in,” Nurse said. “Part of the interest is in making a downtown that has something for everybody.”

The city has two skate parks, one each in Fossil and Lake Vista parks. But those are small-scale facilities intended for use by locals. The 40,000-square-foot facility envisaged by supporters would cost about $2 million and would be intended to draw enthusiasts from across the region and host international skateboarding events.

Lakeland and Bradenton are among nearby cities that have invested in skate parks, with Lakeland spending $1.3 million on a 27,000-square-foot park. Zephyrhills officials are in talks with park designers Team Pain of Winter Park for a new $225,000 park.

Funding for St. Petersurg’s project would come from the Weeki Wachee Operating Fund, money the city accrued from selling land in Hernando County, money dedicated for park and beautification projects.

But the park has to clear several significant hurdles before moving ahead, not least of which could be its location.

As supporters of the Lens pier design found, any development along the city’s renowned waterfront can end up mired in controversy.

Muddying the waters further is that the city has just embarked on its second attempt to select a new pier design and is also about to hire a firm to craft a downtown waterfront master plan to serve as a blueprint for development.

Council members indicated support for the idea, but there were reservations about the proposed location.

“It’s going to take some convincing for me to use real estate at Spa Beach,” Councilman Charlie Gerdes said.

Nurse also was behind a move to revoke the city’s ban on skating downtown. That change is still making its way through the city’s legal office.

More than 50 skateboard enthusiasts packed City Hall to show their support for the skate park, including students from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s skateboard club.

Dan Brown, a 52-year-old programmer who skateboards four or five times a week and regularly competes, said the park would make it easier for residents who drive to Lakeland to skate.

“It’s going to bring lots of people here through the course of the year,” Brown said. “We could host national and world cup events.”

Depending on the design, the park could be suitable for BMX cycling and in-line skaters. It also would provide a venue for WCMX, a fledgling sport for wheelchair athletes who use adapted wheelchairs to perform tricks similar to those of BMX riders and skateboarders.

Antonio Torres, who practices WCMX at Fossil Park, was among those supporting the project. The 37-year-old has spina bifida and has been in and out of a wheelchair his whole life. He said the skate park would help his health and that of everyone else who uses it.

“It’s a health thing, not just for the able-bodied but for people in wheelchairs, too,” he said.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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