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Skate board park is debatable

The Seminole council is divided on whether to build a skater haven.

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published October 18, 2006


Despite a recent survey that showed that the majority of residents want a skateboard park, city leaders are decidedly on the fence.

Most council members said they would support building a skate park on two conditions:

-That voters approve an extension of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax in March. The estimated $290,000 for the skate park, like the proposed senior center, would come from Penny money.

-That taxpayers continue to support the building of such a park after they discover its cost.

Even then, the future of the park is in doubt. Commissioners said if those conditions happened, they'd put some money away each year for the park but still might not use the funds for that purpose.

The resurrected discussion about building a skate park in Seminole followed a city survey that said 60 percent of residents polled support a park even though more than 78 percent said they would not use it.

The low probability of use disturbed some council members, while others heralded it as an older population's support for finding creative outlets for youth. Currently, there are at least five skate parks in Pinellas County.

Vice Mayor Dan Hester was especially outspoken against the park, at various times citing the cost as $390,000 or $400,000 or $300,000. City Manager Frank Edmunds had given a $290,000 estimate.

While admitting that support seemed strong, Hester suggested that residents might respond differently with more information. He also questioned what project might go undone to make way for the park, and at one point suggested that the money be returned to taxpayers by reducing taxes rather than build the park.

"We don't need it," Hester said. "I personally think it's not a sport."

Council members John Counts and Tom Barnhorn argued that people want the park for their children and grandchildren.

"I'm very, very in favor of a skateboard park," Barnhorn said. "Yes, it is a sport."

Counts countered that not every resident uses the pool, the recreation center or the library, yet they're there for people who do want to use them.

He also urged the council to do the math - the 8 percent who said they'd definitely use the park is "a lot of people," or about 1,440 of the more than 18,000 Seminole residents.

Pinellas Park officials also have considered building a skate park, but there are no formal plans yet.

In St. Petersburg and Largo, the two south Pinellas cities that have skateboard parks, officials were enthusiastic about them.

St. Petersburg built its first skate park at Fossil Park after the city made it illegal for kids to skate downtown, said Lee Metzger, city services administrator for St. Petersburg. The park was so successful that the city built another at Lake Vista Park and is ready to build a third at Walter Fuller Park.

Metzger said it's hard to determine use, but there are kids at both parks whenever school is out.

"My person opinion is (that) we have an obligation to provide facilities to our residents to meet their leisure time needs. It's more than just the traditional sports. There are kids that don't want to be in soccer or football or whatever. They're into skateboarding," Metzger said.

If Seminole is worried about lack of interest or skating fading away as a popular sport, then officials should build the park so it can be used for something else, he said. St. Petersburg's first one has the dimensions of a basketball court.

"If skateboarding goes away in a couple of years, how much have you really lost?" Metzger asked. "I would encourage Seminole to consider it. You've got kids up there who are active and need places to go."

Largo's athletic-program manager, Chip Potts, said his city's skate park has been successful. The park was developed after a survey similar to Seminole's, he said.

"It's a staying sport. It has stayed over generations now," Potts said.

He conceded that kids still skate around businesses and areas where they should not, but with a park, police "can shoo them into an area where it's legal."

Like Metzger, he recommended that Seminole consult skaters to find out what they want and need before building a park.

[Last modified October 19, 2006, 12:24:16]


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