Phil Sanders cycled slowly around the Under the Freeway Skate Park, warming up before flipping a couple 360’s off the graffiti-covered steps.
It’s a good day for Sanders. He only likes to unicycle at the park “when it’s feeling less sketchy,” he said.
A proposal by the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department might mean more good days for people like Sanders as the agency explores the idea of installing a new skate park at Riverfront Park and demolishing UTF Skate Park.
Plans to install the new park are still in the early phases, Parks Director Leroy Eadie said, so don’t expect to see UTF closed anytime soon.
Funding for the park may go before voters on the November 2014 ballot, when Eadie predicts the Parks and Recreation Department will issue a bond for the Riverfront Park Master Plan improvement project. Eadie said the plan will likely include funding for a new skate park. If approved, new construction could begin in 2015, he said.
Trash covers the ground. A group of teenagers roll joints, glancing over their shoulders. A few men sleep under black plastic bags.
UTF has been a source of concern for the Parks Board for some time, Eadie said.
“There is some skating activity going on, then there is some other activity going on that doesn’t appear to be recreational in nature,” Eadie said.
The Spokane Police Department has identified the park as a hot spot for criminal activity, including recent reports of vehicle prowling, bicycle theft and drug use, Sgt. Lydia Taylor said.
On Monday, police arrested Jamie Mattozzi, 27, Michael Dial, 22, and Kenda Bradford, 34, on charges of trespassing and possession of methamphetamines at the skate park, according to a news release.
Moving the skate park to Riverfront Park would enable the Parks Department to hire a full-time security guard and eliminate problems at the current location, Eadie said.
Sanders supports a skate park in Riverfront Park, and said he’d frequent it as long as he could ride his unicycle.
In the last year, Sanders has seen more crime, used needles and homeless campers in the park than ever before. And he’s ready for it to end.
Others aren’t so eager for a move.
Tony Padilla, who hangs out at the park with his friends, predicts problems would just move to Riverfront Park.
The city should instead consider investing in the existing space and hire a full-time worker to keep the place clean and safe.
“I’ve seen the best tricks in the world here,” Padilla said. “You’d pay to see that stuff.”
Last year, a proposal to invest $300,000 into the park was put on hold when the Park Board determined there wasn’t enough proof that it would make things safer.
“It doesn’t make sense for us as an organization to invest $300,000 into a facility that we can’t guarantee will be a safe recreation option for families.”
Park Board president Randy Cameron said the Park Board is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a skate park. It’s just a matter of where it is and how it’s maintained.
“That area at times becomes very concerning and a little scary, really,” Cameron said. “It’s a little dangerous.”
However, Cameron said the Park Board would be in support of a new skate park with the right amenities and safety practices.
“We see the benefit,” he said. “We see the economic driver.”
City Council President Ben Stuckart said he’s aware of the crime problems at the skate park, but added there’s a strong community of skaters that need a place to go.
“Personally, I just really don’t want to see it get closed and not have a skate park open,” Stuckart said. “The center of our city really needs a skate park.”