Skatepark Attempts to Bring Change

Illustration by Ravitej Khalsa with Rotary and Mike Hopper of Hopper Designs

By: Ryan Imondi

The popularity of skateboarding is undeniable. Ranking as the 6th most popular sport in the world with an average age of 12, it would seem like every city park would have a skatepark right between the basketball court and the baseball field. They don’t.

The lack of skateparks compared to the number of skateboarders has been an issue troubling most metropolitan cities. Due to high costs, most cities have opted for other more traditional formats when building parks, leaving skateboarders to build homemade ramps or make do with freestyle skating.

The City of Eugene Parks and Open Spaces partnered with Skaters for Eugene Skate Parks and the Eugene Rotary Club have taken the challenge of offsetting this disparity.

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Started in early 2000 with 1,700 petitioners agreeing that there was a need for a skatepark, the team has developed a year round, destination skatepark that combines street-style skating with park skating. The park is planned to start construction in 2011 under the I-105 Washington-Jefferson Bridge.

Designed by Dreamland Skatepark, the planners are hoping to build a park that engages the community within the Whiteaker neighborhood as well as the city of Eugene as a whole. The community has already contributed through input on different park designs and helped out with fundraisers.

At the heart of the project is the goal of providing a younger generation the opportunity to be kids. The skatepark is seen as a perfect place for teens and preteens to release energy and stay fit. Through skating, the planners see children developing character and learning how to be successful by challenging themselves.

The plans to build the park face a few hurdles before the project can begin. The Washington-Jefferson Park currently has a large homeless population that has settled into the park. The safety and security of children is also a key issue as a high-level of drug activity and crime happen in the park.

With design plans completed and the fund raising for $250,000 well underway, everyone involved in the project carries a certain level of excitement about the skatepark dreamed-up over a decade ago finally close to a reality.

Planned site for skatepark

The Current State of the Washing-Jefferson Park

Interview with Emily Proudfoot

Emily Proudfoot

Emily Proudfoot is the city architect for the City of Eugene Parks and Open Spaces. She is the project coordinator for the City Center Skatepark. Ms. Proudfoot sat down to discuss current aspects of the skatepark and highlight where in the planning process the skatepark is currently.

On the current state of the Washington-Jefferson Park

On choosing to go with a skatepark over a more traditional format

On the cost of the park and fund raising efforts

Where a person can go to donate money for the skatepark

Local groups combine efforts to raise money for Washington-Jefferson skatepark

Anyone walking by the conference room at the Eugene Hilton on Tuesday would have been perplexed by the events taking place. During their weekly meeting, the Eugene Rotary Club comprised mostly of Rotarians above the age of fifty, stood around cheering and taking pictures of

skateboarders performing tricks.

What makes this event surprising is typically the positive perspective towards skateboarding goes down as the number connected with age goes up.

Rotary Club meeting

Throughout the 1980s and 90s skateboarding was viewed as a rebellious sport as it was constantly banned and outlawed by politicians and neighborhood associations.

Dave Stark, president of the Eugene City Brewery sat at the Rotary meeting reflecting on the problems skaters used to face. “Myself and my brewers were passionate skaters growing up,” Mr. Stark said. “It was hard finding places to skate, because it was frowned upon. It was a pain.”

Today it was clear that the negative outlook towards skating was no long present. Rotarians were emphasizing that a new skatepark would help

the youth build character and teach success. Many of these descriptions coming from Rotary members

who had never stood on a skateboard in their life.

Dave Stark of the Eugene City Brewery

“I think the skate park is a worthy project for Rotary and the community to support,” Joel Pomerantz said, one of the many Rotary members fully back the skatepark. “The plan envisions a venue for local and visiting youth to engage in a strenuous, skillful, healthy activity that is social and sometimes competitive,” Pomerantz added.

To accomplish this goal, the Downtown Rotary is partnering with Skaters for Eugene Skateparks to raise $250,000; attempting to match the money promised by the City of Eugene.

The organizations are hoping the money will be raised by the time construction is set to begin in early 2011. The task is not an easy one as a poor economy doesn’t usually make for a traditionally favorable fund raising environment.

Yet, many members of the core group embody optimistic perspectives towards the fund raising efforts. “The designs are in, the site is identified, and all that is lacking is some money. Our fundraising efforts will reach to all the community, from children to businesses, to dig in and make this park a reality.” Lee White, Skate Park Project chair said over email.

This attitude of “digging in” has become a theme as both the Rotary and Skaters for Eugene Skateparks have held multiple fund raisers over the past few months. Local businesses in the Whiteaker neighborhood have held benefits promoting the skatepark, while local artists have donated art for various art auctions.

Like most projects of this magnitude, the planners are selling pieces of the park to anyone that wants to contribute. A person can purchase anything from a brick to the naming rights of the entire skatepark on Skater for Eugene Skateparks website.

Twenty years ago it wouldn’t appear that such a title wave of help would rally behind a skatepark being built. Then again, twenty years ago the general manager of a major hotel would have never been seen on a skateboard.

Today at the Rotary Club meeting GM of the Eugene Hilton, Jody Hall, skated back and forth across the conference room floor to cheering Rotarians.

Homeless pose unique challenge to skatepark planning

Homeless sit near future skatepark location

When looking at an artist rendition of how the City Center Skatepark will look when completed there is a noticeable difference between the current park and the illustration. It’s not the absence of quarter pipes or launch boxes. Instead the illustrations are missing the presence of Washington-Jefferson’s permanent residents.

The Washington-Jefferson Park has a large, year-round homeless population due to the cover the I-105 Washington-Jefferson Bridge provides against the weather.

This year-round protection from the weather, which was one of the main selling points for the skate park, is going to bring the planners into direct conflict with the people living there now.

Currently, the City of Eugene does not have a definite plan on how to deal with the homeless population that inhabits the park. The situation is complicated due to the fact that the planners do not want to uproot the homeless, but the homeless could potentially cause harm to younger skaters.

The park itself has been known to have a high-level of crime and drug activity. Last summer a homeless man was stabbed and murdered in broad daylight near the location where the skatepark is planned to go in.

“This type of incident only further reinforces the need to provide a transformational centerpiece to the park that brings consistent, positive energy and users to the park.” Skaters for Eugene Skateparks Bob Chandler said in response to a KVAL reporter asking if the murder changes plans for the location of the park.

The planning team is hoping to accomplish this goal of “positive energy” by adding security cameras, vegetation removal, increased police patrols and extra lighting during the evening skating hours.

These plans have caused certain members of the Whiteaker neighborhood as well as people who assist the homeless to speculate that the skatepark is initially trying to push the homeless out.

“There is concern that various elements involving the Skate Park and its Safety Strategy could make it more difficult for our homeless citizens to safely sleep there when they have no suitable alternative,” Anand Keathley of the Whiteaker Community Council (WCC) said.

If in fact the measures taken to improve the skateparks security do force the homeless out, the Whiteaker Community Council is worried that the homeless will lose a safe, weather protected place that has been used by them for a long time.

Further complicating the skatepark plans is the bathroom facilities that have a kitchen inside that is used to feed the low-income citizen of the Whiteaker neighborhood. The skatepark team is planning to renovate the bathrooms, but no plans for the kitchen are currently set.

“My biggest concern is not the skatepark, but the additional presence of the events,” said David Robertson, who runs the non-profit Free People Eugene that interacts with the homeless on a one-on-one level. “Events specifically aimed at the homeless will be affected by the presence of the park,” added Robertson.

With many members on both sides of debate unsure exactly how the skatepark will change the homeless presence inside the Washington-Jefferson Park, the only true answer will come when the skatepark is set to start construction in 2011.

“They don’t live with the next two years in mind,” said Robertson. “They’re homeless. They survive, that’s what they do.”

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