Young Kwak photo
A skater skates at the Under The Freeway park before it was demolished in 2015.
The destruction of the Under the Freeway skatepark in downtown Spokane two years ago came attached to something like a promise: Yes, the city had decided to destroy UTF instead of its initial plan to upgrade it, but it would build a new skatepark to replace it.
“We’re committed to this project,” then-Parks Department spokeswoman Monique Cotton told the Spokesman-Review in June of 2015
. “The hope is that we’ll be able to have some design work and some construction by the summer of 2016.”
Two years later, that construction hasn't begun. For that matter, the Parks Department hasn't decided on a location, identified a funding source to construct the full park, or laid out a timeline for the skatepark. The skatepark proposal isn't dead. But for nearly a year, it's been largely dormant.
Josh Yandell, owner
of Pistole Boardshop and a frequent advocate for a new skatepark, is tired of feeling jerked around.
"They’ve teased us so bad
," Yandell says. "It’s extremely frustrating. It’s absolutely ridiculous. They told us, 'Oh, we’re going to be working on your new park... there’s no plan for it."
Chris Wright, president of the Spokane Park Board, says the skatepark question hasn't come up as an object of discussion for the board this year.
"The short answer is it just wasn’t a priority for the board," says Wright.
Way back in 2012, the city was looking at renovating the UTF skatepark — it even handed skatepark consulting team Grindline Skateparks more than $30,000 to design an upgrade. And $300,000, left over from the 2007 park bond, had been preserved from the park bond.
But the space
had also become a spot that attracted vandalism and drug deals
. The skaters, to be clear, weren't to blame. Yandell talks about fights breaking out between skaters and troublemakers. He says that a friend
has shown him photos of people shooting up heroin at the park — with a police car in the background.
Ultimately, the Park Board wasn't interested in sinking more money into the troubled UTF area.
"It was a facility and an investment that came somewhat of a surprise to the board... board members saw this in the budget and said, what the heck is this?" Wright says. "The board said it didn’t make sense. We didn't own the land."
In December of 2013, the Park Board passed a resolution to shutter the UTF park and "start the planning process for a new skate/wheel park in another central core City park to be completed by May 9th, 2021."
"The board committed to keep money
to set aside and to build a skateboard park and look at it in the coming years," Wright says. "There was no great timeline or rush on that."
But the lack of progress has Yandell frustrated.
"They held up a carrot, look over here, look over here," Yandell says. "And when we looked over there, they took out our skatepark."
By the end of 2014, the UTF skate park had officially been handed over to nonprofit Blessings Under the Bridge, with the idea that it would allow "their outreach to relocate with limited negative impacts on the services they currently provide."
(Now, of course
, Blessings Under the Bridge has also been ejected from the spot under the freeway, a development that Yandell watches with a certain measure of schadenfreude.)
When demolishment began two years ago, the city looked committed to replacing the park. It still had $288,000 left in its coffers.
"That money is still allocated to a skatepark," Wright told the Inlander
then. "I don't think the board would ever take it out."
Parks even brought back Grindline, paying it to identify the best spots to build a new skatepark. Riverfront Park was identified as the lead option
, with Riverfront and Cannon as possible alternatives. Meetings were held with skaters to talk about what they'd like to see in the new park.
But Yandell says the proposal has struggled to get traction in the years since, for a number of reasons.
"The person we used to deal with was Monique Cotton," Yandell says. But in September of 2015, the former parks department spokeswoman quickly became entangled in a city scandal involving her sexual harassment allegations against the former police chief. Yandell says the skatepark conversation got lost amid the chaos.
"We don’t know what’s going on," Yandell says.
The 2014 Riverfront Park master plan listed a skate or wheels park on the North Bank of the river as a "third tier" priority for the park.
A potential skate park/wheels facility located on the upper north bank of the Park could be a staffed venue that would be supervised and pay-to-skate. The venue could accommodate a variety of recreational wheels (i.e. skateboards, longboards, roller blades and BMX biking.) An adaptive re-use of the existing Carnation Garage on Cataldo Street with the addition of multiple large overhead garage doors connecting the interior to the exterior could create a dynamic indoor/outdoor skating experience.
But it also noted that such a facility could cost $3 million, and could not be easily funded.
Last year, the question of spending up to $30,000 to begin designing a skatepark on the north bank of Riverfront Park came before the Park Board repeatedly between March and July, but the board declined to bite. Ultimately, the board opted to defer the conversation until the park contractor figured out what it wanted to do with the park's maintenance and operations building.
"We had too many other things for Riverfront Park to tackle," Wright says. "It was easier to defer that decision. We haven’t really taken it up since last year. We've been focusing on the project in front of us. "
The planning for the north bank of Riverfront Park have been put on hold as the city works on other sections, but the current design does not include the skatepark.
A middle school student presented before the Park Board's Recreation Committee in March about skate park ideas, says Fianna Dickson, Parks Department spokeswoman, sparking discussion about the issue, but there haven't been any active steps taken recently.
Still, she says there's still support for the skatepark inside the parks department itself.
“This is not a conversation that staff wants to let go. It’s an active conversation,” says Dickson. “We’ve got a lot of passionate staff about it."
But she says the sticking point has been the Park Board. "It’s going to need more support of the Park Board to move forward," Dickson says.
Today, there's been a significant amount of turnover on the Park Board, and Wright says he's not sure how the current board would line up to vote on
a new skatepark.
"I haven’t been a big fan of a downtown skatepark, personally," Wright says. "I'd rather put it on the South Hill... An urban skatepark poses more challenges in keeping it family-friendly."
The city currently has two skateparks: One at Hillyard and one at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex near Joe Albi Stadium
But Yandell says that the Northwest is the region with the highest concentration of skateparks in the country — and he believes Spokane should do better. He sees the city sliding backward, losing the skatepark it had without replacing it.
"Spokane is an amazing, amazing place," Yandell says. "It’s one of the few things we’re missing to make it perfect."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Publisher Ted S. McGregor Jr. sits on the Spokane Park Board; per Inlander policy, he does not edit columns or news stories involving any park business.
Mike Miller photo
UTF skate park supporters rally in 2012. The location of a replacement park still hasn't been decided.