The data said no skate park, but a room full of skaters, from age 8 to old enough for AARP, convinced Roanoke City Council on Monday to add a home for skaters of all ages to ollie and grind to the city’s parks and recreation master plan.
Council postponed until Aug. 5 action on approving the plan and directed city staff to figure out how to include a skate park in the 10-year parks plan, but not at the expense of already identified priorities for city funding. Those include as upgraded pools and expanded recreation centers and more investment in the city’s popular greenway trails system.
That means the skate park will be added to the plan on the condition it be funded by outside sources.
“We now agree a skate park is needed,” Mayor Sherman Lea told the crowd of skaters and supporters who packed council chambers. “We’re looking and pushing in that direction.”
The master plan was developed over the last 18 months based on a series of public meetings, an open online survey and a statistically valid survey, which carried 60 percent of the weight in influencing a list of facilities and programs priorities.
Those priorities were identified from the intersection of facilities needs that respondents identified as both unmet and important, said Neelay Bhatt, vice president of PROS Consulting, which authored the plan.
That list was topped by deferred maintenance on the city’s pools and rec centers, along with more investment in the greenway system.
Though the parks and rec department had been working with a nonprofit, the Roanoke Skatepark Initiative, for four years to figure out plans and funding for a skate park, including paying for a feasibility study, such a park rated low in the survey.
The feasibility study put the price of the first phase of a concrete skate park at nearly $500,000, with a total price tag of $1.5 million after two additional phases.
Determined to make their voices heard, dozens of skaters showed up in their Vans shoes and skating T-shirts to let council know that whatever the survey said, there’s a passionate skating community in the city. Of 10 speakers at the public hearing, nine spoke about the skate park.
Roanoke has an aging skate park with wooden ramps beneath the Wasena bridge, but even that will be gone when work to replace the bridge begins in a few years.
William Sellari, a board member of the skate park initiative, pointed out that Salem, Bedford and Lynchburg all have skate parks.
“They’ve figured it out and we haven’t,” he said.
“Roanoke wants to be progressive,” said Chad Clark, who skated as a teen. “Here’s your opportunity to do something for a demographic that really doesn’t have much say in things.”
“These kids are worth investing in,” said Keith Hetherington, who said he’s old enough to be a member of AARP, but still skates.
“Me and my friends don’t want to have to travel to another city just to get to a skate park,” added Sebastian Campbell, 8.
Several skateboarders testified to how skateboarding changed their lives by providing friends, community, a means of expression, and a way to learn to improve at something through dedication and persistence.
“It’s literally your life and your soul and your escape,” said Alex Patton. “It’s shown me more in my life than you could ever think it can.”
If the city finds a way to provide a skate park, he said, “it’s going to be our second home, and something we really are going to cherish and all of our heart.”
Council members uniformly praised the skate park advocates for their passion, organization and respectful approach.
Vice Mayor Joe Cobb worried that the formal process of developing the plan missed the voices of young people like those who came to the meeting, and he thanked them for showing up.
All members present, with Councilman Bill Bestpitch absent, urged staff to find a way to work a skate park into the plan’s list of priorities.
“This tonight demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s worth pursuing the feasibility of a skate park,” Councilwoman Anita Price said.
“I have no doubt that Roanoke will have a state of the art skate park,” Cobb said. “How and when we get there is contingent upon how we work together.”
Council members agreed that funding a skate park should not come at the expense of the more pressing priorities identified in the plan.
So funding the skate park will depend on grants and private fundraising like what the skate park initiative has already been doing.
City Manager Bob Cowell pointed out that even if money is found, with the bridge replacement in the offing and Wasena Park identified as the best location, nothing can happen before five years.
Cobb urged the city to identify places in multiple parks to put smaller, less expensive but safe skating facilities in the meantime.
“Be patient,” the mayor urged. “Because it takes time.”