Skateboarders who came to the meeting called by Spokane Parks and Recreation Department on Nov. 11 expected to see plans for a remodel and update of the skate park located beneath Interstate 90. Instead, they were told that the project to restore the Under the Freeway Skate Park has been put on hold.
“For the last three years I’ve been trying to get this project moving along,” said Leroy Eadie, director of Spokane Parks and Recreation Department. “But right now I have a Park Board that’s getting nervous about the project.”
That did not sit well with the 25 or so skaters who were there.
They fired a series of questions at Eadie, mostly wanting to know what had changed so suddenly.
“What happened?” asked Gregory A. Connolly, who was on the planning committee. “It seems like we are so far behind when it comes to skate parks.”
Many wanted to know if the project stalled because of recreation supervisor Mike Aho’s departure from the Parks Department earlier this year, but Eadie said the two are not connected. Aho left to take a parks and recreation job in Eagle, Idaho.
It was Parks Department staff who had identified the UTF Skate Park restoration as a project to be funded by money left over from the 2007 parks bond. A total of $300,000 was allocated to the project and a contract was signed with Seattle-based skate park designer Grindline Skateparks Inc. Just recently, Parks Department staff did a daylong cleanup project at the skate park and at a meeting earlier this fall, skaters and boarders provided input and ideas for the skate park design.
And then everything came to a screeching halt.
The UTF Skate Park is located west of Browne Street, between Third and Fourth avenues, below I-90 on property that belongs to the Washington State Department of Transportation but is leased by the Parks Department. That location borders the Division Street Gateway Project intended to beautify one of the main entrances to Spokane: the area where Division Street and I-90 intersect. The beautification project has been around for at least three mayors, but Eadie said Mayor David Condon has taken new leadership on the project and will appoint one person to lead it and get it done.
“The UTF Skate Park is not our challenge. Our challenge is what’s going on outside of the skate park,” said Eadie. “There are a lot of moving pieces in that area.” Eadie added that pursuing a project like the skate park without the Park Board’s approval would be like running into a wall. He explained that he can’t approve a $300,000 expenditure on his own.
Ben Stuckart, City Council president, attended the meeting and encouraged Eadie to move on with the UTF Skate Park restoration regardless of what’s happening with the gateway project.
“It’s not like the city would come in and tear it down if there was a good skate park there,” Stuckart said.
The skaters backing the UTF Skate Park comprise a diverse group of people. At this meeting, the youngest person was in grade school and the oldest person in his 50s. Yes, they both skate.
Eadie struggled to explain that the money is there, but he can’t spend it without approval of the Park Board.
“It is park bond money and nothing was mentioned in the 2007 park bond about a skate park,” said Eadie, adding that the contract with Grindline remains in place but the company has been asked to stop working on the UTF Skate Park design until told otherwise.
Some skaters volunteered to simply build a new park in the current location with donated materials, but Eadie nixed that idea.
Instead he suggested the group make a presentation at the next Park Board meeting on Dec. 13.
That suggestion was met with mumbled approval and Connolly, who already served on the planning committee, volunteered to coordinate that effort.
“I wanted to know how to move forward from here,” Connolly said. “This is too important a project.”
The UTF skate park supporters plan to ask the Park Board for approval to proceed and, perhaps also for the $300,000 to be earmarked for the skate park so the money can’t be used for anything else.
“Skate parks are very well utilized, and they have very low maintenance costs once they are put in,” Connolly said. “Just think of how much money we are putting into parks and sports fields. We deserve a place to skate instead of constantly being marginalized.”
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