A fundraising push by a Roanoke nonprofit group advocating a new place for skateboarders to perfect their ollies, heelflips, grinds and slides got a major push from an anonymous donor this week.

That donor has pledged to match up to $10,000 in donations to the Roanoke Skatepark Initiative, said the group’s founder, Keri Garnett. That’s half of the goal of $20,000.

As of Thursday afternoon, the 10-day old effort had raised more than $4,000, including the match.

Even the full $20,000 won’t be nearly enough to build the skate plaza the group has its sights set on. But it will demonstrate to city officials that supporters of the project are committed to making it happen.

“It’s to show the city we’re serious,” said Garnett, who doesn’t skate herself, though her husband, son and daughter do.

The money will also go fund feasibility and location studies for the facility, said Roanoke Director of Parks and Recreation Michael Clark.

Plus, money from the private sector can help move the project up the city’s priority list, Clark said.

While skateboarding and the desire to have a better skating facility have an intense following, it’s a relatively small group.

Clark said that in the city’s most recent survey of citizen desires for park amenities, a skatepark came in at number 26 on the list. The list is topped by athletic fields, indoor fitness facilities, playgrounds and more dog parks.

Meanwhile, after putting $2.5 million into synthetic turf athletic fields at Rivers Edge over the next year, Clark said he’ll have just a million dollars a year for capital projects for the foreseeable future.

The skate plaza Garnett and her group wants to build will likely cost $350,000 to $500,000.

That the city’s existing skateboard park has seen its best days — and those quite a while ago — is not really part of the debate.

The collection of plywood ramps underneath the bridge in Wasena Park is warping and crumbling. Some ramps have been converted to cabins for the homeless.

Garnett said even at its best the location wasn’t that welcoming “shoved under the bridge.”

“A lot of people don’t feel comfortable dropping off their kids there. It looks shady,” she said.

The city has ceased repairing the ramps when they fail, Clark said. They just remove them. And in a few years the bridge overhead is scheduled to be replaced, spelling a permanent end to the facility.

The Roanoke Skatepark Initiative is pushing for a plaza-type skatepark, with rails, stairs, ramps and curbs for street and freestyle skating, which they say are more popular rather than quarter pipes and bowls that only more advanced skaters can utilize.

“Something that looks beautiful. It doesn’t need to be an eyesore,” Garnett said. It can be landscaped and her group would be willing to maintain it, she added.

She believes an appealing new skating site would reveal that there’s more demand than is evident.

“If there’s nowhere for kids to skate, you can’t see it,” Garnett said.

And once a new park is in place, it will spark interest from people who aren’t skaters now, she said. A survey of 100 city residents supports that belief, she added.

Clark believes its possible, but asked, “Is $500,000 the kind of gamble you want to take?”

He’s urged the group to investigate other private funding sources, including Roanoke County, which was a partner in the Wasena skateboard park.

The initiative has already received some unsolicited interest from the Tony Hawk Foundation, a nonprofit created by the renown skateboarder, that helps fund skateboard parks.

But Garnett said it’s too early for the foundation to become involved because they only fund projects that are underway.

Clark said private money like that could make a big difference. He pointed to the city’s dog park as an example. It was well down the list of priorities identified by city residents, but proponents raised a large amount of money and it got done soon.

“The more private money, the more alternative funds we can bring in,” he said, “the higher up the list the project moves.”

On the web:

To donate to the Roanoke Skatepark Initiative: https://www.gofundme.com/roaskate

To learn more about the organization: https://www.roaskate.org/

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Matt Chittum covers Roanoke City. A Roanoke native, he’s been at the Roanoke Times for more than two decades, having overcome an inauspicious start with a part-time clerical job.

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