Spokane’s Under the Freeway skate park is all pavement and out of the way.
That’s why it’s perfect for skaters, who like all the hard ramps and walls, a half-acre concrete room where they can make all the ruckus they want in any weather that comes.
It’s also perfect for a few other activities, which has given the decades-old skate park a graffiti-riddled reputation of dirt and vice.
That reputation, and the park, may not last much longer. The much-discussed closure of UTF took a step forward last week as the city of Spokane and Grindline Skateparks hosted a discussion for a new skate park to replace the out-of-date park near Lewis and Clark High School.
Upward of 50 people attended the meeting, where consensus pointed to Riverfront Park as the desired location for a new park, with at least a partial covering. People also supported a diversity of terrain, with easy, rolling bowls for beginners, and harder edges to mimic urban features for experienced riders. With such terrain, the park could act as a transition between the city’s two other skate parks in Hillyard and at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex.
“It was pretty clear that Riverfront was the preferred location,” said Matt Fluegge, vice president and chief operations officer for Grindline, which is contracted to compile a report this summer on a new skate park for the city. “And the ideal solution would be to have a park design that complements both (Hillyard and Dwight Merkel) parks and have features that neither of those parks have.”
Grindline – a Seattle-based company – has designed and built 250 skate parks across the country, and in Israel and Denmark. Locally, the company designed the Harmon-Shipley skate park in Hillyard and the Spokane Valley YMCA skate park.
Fluegge said the company hopes to be involved with the design of the new park, but nothing formal has been decided yet.
One thing that is certain is the eventual shuttering of UTF. Aside from issues of safety and cleanliness, the park sits on state Transportation Department land, which was the primary barrier for keeping UTF in operation, said Monique Cotton, parks department spokeswoman.
“We realized that serious upgrades need to happen to that park, to make it safe but also to make it more skate-able,” she said. “We didn’t want to do updates and upgrades to a site that we didn’t own.”
Cotton, who used to work with Spokane Police Department, called UTF a “convenient nuisance location.”
“The people going to the park were not the issue,” said Cotton, referring to skaters. Instead, Cotton said people would trash the park, mark it with graffiti and exploit the park’s isolation to use drugs.
“The UTF park will need to be closed. That’s just the reality,” Cotton said.
Josh Yandell, who owns Pistole Boardshop and is involved in the Friends of Spokane Skateparks, called UTF’s closure a “double-edged sword.”
“I went to Lewis and Clark so I grew up skating UTF,” he said. “But it’s just dangerous now. And it’s not really the best park in the world.”
Yandell said he was excited about a new park, especially if it were in Riverfront Park. He said the skating community is pushing to have the park on the north bank of the river, near the Flour Mill, and lobbying to have a partial roof put over a new park.
“The best thing about (UTF) is it’s covered,” he said. “We’re really fighting for that. We’ll give up some features for at least a partial cover.”
Yandell said he figured an ideal park would cost between $800,000 and $1 million, adding that his group will lend its hand to fundraising efforts.
Cotton said the city’s two other skate parks cost about $600,000. The city has identified about $300,000 in funding for a new park, leftover money from the 2007 park bond, which was focused on building new pools in the city’s parks. No money from last year’s $60 million bond to renovate Riverfront Park will be spent on the skate park, Cotton said.
“We’re committed to this project,” she said. “The hope is that we’ll be able to have some design work and some construction by the summer of 2016.”
Fluegge, with Grindline, said he was committed to making Spokane’s next skate park its best. He attended Washington State University and got his degree in landscape architecture in 2003. At the time, the program finished its classes in Spokane, and Fluegge’s senior thesis dealt with the redesign of UTF.
When he was hired by Grindline, his first project was the design for Hillyard’s skate park.
“The history of skate parks in Spokane is near and dear to my heart,” he said.