Despite support, skate park plan still stalled
By Dan Washburn
The Times
They're all over Gainesville, Ga.: signs reading "No Skateboarding" or "Skateboarding Prohibited."

And area skateboarders and in-line skaters are wondering where, if anywhere, they can go. Skating is illegal on the city's public property and skating on private property could lead to criminal trespass or damage charges.

"All kids need is a parking lot — some barricades and parking blocks sitting around — that's all they need," said Gainesville skater Michael Crowder. "Yeah, it'd be nice to have a (skate park with a) half pipe and a kidney pool and all that, but nobody in Gainesville has ever had all that anyway."

Melvin Cooper, director of Gainesville's Parks and Recreation Agency, said the city has been working on a remedy — perhaps a park for skaters — for more than two years.

"Our issue right now is location and money," said Cooper, who admitted he's not quite sure how large the skating community is in the Gainesville area. "I think there's a need here, but how great a need is a question I can't get a handle on."

In 1998, Cooper's office received a 115-signature petition from people interested in finding a place to skate. But Cooper said skater attendance has been slim at meetings on the subject since then.

Cooper estimates the cost of a skating facility at $100,000-$250,000. Nailing down where such a park might be built has been difficult, he said.

"For example, if we took the Roper Park tennis court and turned it into a skate facility, I think we would have a lot of calls and complaints from residents about skateboarders, the noise, the lights, that sort of thing," Cooper explained.

Skate parks have been successful in nearby cities. In September 1998, Roswell turned a tennis court into a $116,050 skate park that averaged 631 visits per month during its first year.

"As soon as word got out, it boomed," said Derek Howell, recreation supervisor for Roswell Parks and Recreation.

Howell noted that skaters played a major role in making the park a reality. "There was a need for it, but it was more of the skaters bringing it to us, than us going out and doing it ourselves," he said.

Libby Caldwell, vice president of Bank of America on Washington Street, would like to see such a park in Gainesville. Skaters frequent her bank's parking lot and she worries about their safety.

"We have a lot of traffic that whizzes through and around our building because of the drive-through there and our night-drop," said Caldwell, who said the bank's walls have even been damaged by skateboards. "Beyond the liability I'm concerned more for the kids. I would like to see some kind of facility, a park, that the kids could go to and feel like they could enjoy themselves and not negatively impact business around the town."

Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper agrees.

"I'm hoping that we can come up with something and maybe have an area for those folks," he said. "It'd be nice if somebody had a parking lot they'd let them use."

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Dan Washburn is a sports writer for The Times in Gainesville, Ga.
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