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Off the ramp 

by Pia K. Hansen


Believe it or not, but in the middle of the budget tightening going on at City Hall, there is one public project that's already got a few hundred grand allocated to it. No, it's not a new parking garage and it's not a light rail study -- it's something as un-Spokane as a new skateboard park.


Back in '99, voters passed a park bond dedicating $200,000 to the construction of a new skateboard park somewhere in north Spokane -- "somewhere" being the key word here.


Today, nearly two years later, not a single blueprint of a half-pipe exists as skateboarders continue to slide off steps in front of schools, skid down rails in public parks and jump off curbs in parking lots. Why? Because the skatepark has caught a textbook case of NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard).


"Yes, the skatepark has been on the shelf for a while," says Taylor Bresslor, the Parks and Recreation Department's operation manager.


The lack of location is the No. 1 reason why the project hasn't moved off that shelf yet.


"This is not a neighborhood park, it's a different sort of thing," says Bresslor. "I do have a couple of locations that I am looking at but I can't tell you where, because people in those areas will go insane if they find out from you, before we get a chance to talk to them."


Skaters, skateboarders and the crowd that presumably hangs out at skateboard parks apparently are not Spokane's favorite sons and daughters.


"You should think we were trying to deposit plutonium in people's backyards -- that's the kind of reaction this skateboard park gets," says Bresslor, then he grows weary. "I'm not mocking the process. I understand that we have to talk to the neighborhood councils. But it's been very hard to find a spot where this park is welcome." He adds that people often like just the idea of skateboard parks or basketball hoops, but as soon as they go up complaints start pouring in.


"You'd be surprised. We've had that happen a few times. When the kids start using the hoops then we get the calls," explains Bresslor.


Being branded with a certain stigma is nothing new for skaters.


"People seem to think of a skateboard park as only a place where a bunch of dirt-bag skaters hang out," says Dean Ozuna, who describes himself as an aging skater. "I'm a 40-year-old CPA. I ride a skateboard and specialize in taxes. Many of the people interested in building this park are over 30."


Ozuna may not be a typical skateboarder, but just like most other skaters, he meets and rides at the park underneath the freeway. That park is overused and, says Ozuna, way below standard.


"The city went through a lot of money to build that park and I say they got ripped off," he explains. "It's bad. I'd go as far as to say it's unsafe to ride there, because of the design."


So why haven't the skaters pushed harder to get the new park done now that the money was finally there?


"It's a little annoying to think that the money is just sitting there. But part of it is ignorance on the skaters' part," says Ozuna. "It's hard to get skaters together about these things. They tend to be very individualistic, you know."


But Mike Stone, Parks and Recreation Department director, accepts part of the blame.


"Honestly, we haven't pushed this as hard as we need to," he says. "The Joe Albi Stadium area is a possibility. It's already an active area." In the spring, the parks department will begin developing a new master plan for the stadium area.


"The bond issue spelled out that the skatepark was going to the North Side," says Stone. "The city owns about 115 acres around the stadium, and we are still looking up there. But we are looking at other locations, too."


One thing skaters and Parks and Recreation officials agree on is the need for skater involvement when it comes to the design of the park.


"When I look at the existing skatepark I'm glad [the city] hasn't spent any money yet," says Ozuna. "My biggest thing is to get some community involvement and to get the right people to build the park." He says some of the better parks he's seen are less than 8,000 square feet, and they run about $20 per square foot in construction costs.


A new park would ideally follow a so-called swimming pool design, where what looks like a giant pool is build above-ground, in concrete and steel. No plywood ramps here.


"The users could help us decide what they would like in a park and that could help us create a footprint for what type of location we need," says Stone. "That way we could better find a place for the skatepark, maybe even in one of the existing parks."


He knows skaters and volunteers are ready to jump in and back up the project.


"I think if we had meeting next week we would overflow any location. We are not hurting for support," says Stone. "And the sport has grown a lot since we built the park under the freeway. We just need to get going on this."





Volunteer builders, skaters, designers or property owners may contact Taylor Bresslor at [email protected] or Mike Stone at [email protected] or call Dean Ozuna at 290-2068.
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