A group of skaters who support the renovation of the Under the Freeway Skate Park took their project to the Spokane Park Board on Dec. 13.
The group was under the impression it would get $300,000 from the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department to renovate the park but learned at a meeting in November the Park Board would not approve the expense.
Skater Gregory A. Connolly was on the planning committee for the UTF Skate Park, and together with a small group of skaters he put together a presentation about the benefits of skate parks for the Park Board.
Park Board President Randy Cameron was the first to speak during Connolly’s presentation, and he apologized for how the group had been treated.
“The timing was horrible and I apologize for that,” Cameron said. “We are concerned about putting $300,000 into a facility in this location. One concern is that the property belongs to DOT and the lease is about to expire.” The park is located under Interstate 90 between McClellan and Bernard streets.
No one from the Washington State Department of Transportation was at the Park Board meeting.
Al Gilson, communications manager for WSDOT’s Eastern Region, said in an email that the lease expires in 2021 and that WSDOT has no plans for making changes to the land under the freeway.
“It’s leased to the city of Spokane for the purpose of operating parking facilities or for the construction, development and maintenance of recreational or education facilities,” Gilson wrote.
Cameron also pointed out that WSDOT would have the right to tear down a skate park built there if it determined it needed the property for, say, freeway ramps.
“We think it would be a project disaster,” Cameron said.
Connolly’s presentation focused on successful skate parks in Portland and San Diego, and he pointed out that once established, skate parks need little maintenance compared with other park land and sports fields.
“I’d say put the onus on the users so they feel like they own it,” Connolly said, adding that skaters already maintain the skate park. “Not a lot of funds have been put into UTF for the last 15 to 20 years. Think of what Manito Park would look like if you didn’t put money into it.”
Several Park Board members shared concerns about illegal activity, such as graffiti and drug use, at the park.
“It’s not the skaters; it’s the indigents,” Connolly said. “I have nothing against homeless people, but they should not be at the skate park.”
The skate park is near the location of a proposed tent city for homeless, also located in the shelter of the freeway.
Park Board member Samuel Selinger said it seemed like the park supporters have some work to do, and he encouraged the group to get organized.
“Go ahead and get your 501(c)(3) registration,” Selinger said.
Park Board member Kenneth Van Voorhis said his support for the project is marginal.
“I’m concerned about graffiti and tagging of nearby businesses,” Van Voorhis said.
Connolly and the skaters maintain they are being wrongfully associated with illegal activity in the area.
“If the skaters are there, they crowd out illegal activity – that’s typically how it goes,” Connolly said.
Leroy Eadie, director of the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, said he remains supportive of the skate park.
“I’m committed to the project and I take responsibility for not communicating with the Park Board,” Eadie said toward the end of Connolly’s presentation.
The group of skaters left the meeting as soon as Connolly was done, some still frustrated by how their project has been treated.
Josh Yandell, owner of Pistole Lifestyle & Skate shop downtown, promised to continue fundraising for the UTF Skate Park.
“We will start selling a special UTF board, and $5 from each board will go toward the park,” Yandell said.
The Spokane Parks Foundation is already holding about $1,500 in donations toward the Brett Miller Memorial UTF Skate Park, $743 of which was raised at a memorial concert held for Miller, who was a local skater.
The city and the parks department are expected to continue meetings about the UTF Skate Park in January.