They hooted and hollered, jumped their boards off wooden ramps, then slammed back down to earth.
But they still weren’t louder than the big air-conditioning unit that hums continually atop downtown Asheville’s Pack Memorial Library.
The hooters, hollerers, jumpers and slammers were a test group of skateboarders, gathered one Friday by city Parks and Recreation staff and Asheville Police Department officers (in a friendly sort of way) to try out a new idea: Installing a temporary skateboard park on the top floor of the Civic Center Parking Deck.
“We just need a place to do our sport,” boarder Lee Pace told Council members on June 16.
Boarding is illegal in city business districts, but boarders persist in practicing their turns and jumps downtown: It is, apparently, the coolest place to skateboard. It’s got rails and steps and low walls and ramps and curbs — all the right stuff for a superior boarding experience.
Stressing that boarders aren’t, overall, a bunch of bad kids, Asheville city staff nonetheless pointed out that Vance Monument and the surrounding sidewalk and wall have been damaged by skateboards. Boarding on city streets and sidewalks also poses risks for pedestrians, motorists and the boarders themselves, noted Asheville Police Officer Mark Wilson.
Over the past year, Parks and Recreation Director Irby Brinson has worked with boarders, police, city staff and business owners on the Skateboard Park Task Force to come up with options that might make everyone happy. The most likely site for a permanent park, he reported, is the leaf dump the city operates on Broadway Avenue, just north of downtown. But local boarders’ preferred, Cadillac-class design for a permanent park could cost more than $70,000 to build — an amount that’s conspicuously missing from the budget. As if that weren’t tough enough, adherents of the proposed park are calling it “The Warlord.”
“You’re not married to that name, are you?” Mayor Leni Sitnick asked the two boarders who came to Council’s work session.
“No,” replied Gabe Smith. He noted that local boarders — who have already raised $850 for the temporary park at the Civic Center — are willing to raise money, find sponsors and build ramps for the project. “It would be the only legal, safe place to skateboard in Asheville,” he said of the Civic Center facility. Smith added that a permament park in the city could be a premier draw across the Southeast for events, contests and just plain boarding fun. Skateboarding has nearly 7 million enthusiasts nationwide.
Remarking that local skateboarders have “energized themselves” to help develop the park, Brinson said, “This is their opportunity to show that they can be vital members of our community.” He estimated that it would cost $5,000 to install 8-foot-high safety fences and security gates for the temporary park, which could be dismantled to meet parking needs for special Civic Center events — and Bele Chere.
Those funds are already available in the city’s budget, Brinson emphasized.
Most Council members applauded the idea — with a few reservations. Sitnick asked staff to make sure that the 8-foot-high fences would ensure boarders’ safety. “Boy, when I watch skateboarding on [television], they can really fly high!” she exclaimed.
“We’re not going to build ramps right by the edge,” said Brinson, quick with his repartee, as usual.
Other safety measures would include having a Parks and Rec employee on-site during operating hours and continuing surveillance by parking-deck security officers.
Council member O.T. Tomes raised the most delicate question of the day: “Restrooms?”
“Portajohns,” replied Brinson.
Council member Chuck Cloninger expressed concern that the temporary park might actually increase skateboard traffic downtown, as participants traveled to and from the Civic Center.
Brinson responded that a regular Wednesday skateboarding operation at the Salvation Army in west Asheville has created no such problems.
Downtown residents Marilyn Muccio and Laurie Maltby voiced their support for the idea — although both have apartments within shouting distance of the deck. “This is a good idea for the kids [and] lets them work within the system,” said Maltby, urging Council members to give the idea a try.
“The kids deserve this,” added Muccio.
But H.K. Edgerton, president of the Asheville chapter of the NAACP, said it amazed him that the city could find money for a temporary skateboard park when it couldn’t deal with problems in the Eagle/Market streets block near City Hall, such as building a restroom for park space the city leases there. He also asked for estimates of how much it would cost the city to staff the skateboard park and pay for any additional police support required.
Sitnick directed Edgerton to meet with Brinson later about those estimates.
Downtown business owner Bonnie Contreras, who serves on the Skateboard Task Force, urged Council to support the Civic Center concept. She spoke up for the boarders, saying, “If we have to, we’ll do car washes to raise money.”
Picking up the tab for McCormick Field
Should the city pay nearly $80,000 for a paving job completed in 1992 — on county property?
Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick wasn’t sure.
The property in question — the McCormick Field parking lot — belongs to Buncombe County, and former City Manager Doug Bean apparently agreed to have the city foot the bill, as part of a cooperative agreement for renovating the ballpark. County staff recently contacted the city, explaining that they had never received the city’s payment.
Wondering whether Bean had had the authority to commit the funds, Sitnick remarked, “$80,000 is a lot of money. I have a problem with city money going towards paving a county parking lot.”
City Manager Jim Westbrook assured Sitnick that he has letters from Bean to county staff, committing the city to the deal.
Council member Barbara Field, who served on Council at the time, said she “vaguely remembers it being discussed in a work [or pre-Council] session.” But Bean, she explained, had no authority to approve payments over $35,000, so Council’s approval would have been necessary. She asked City Clerk Maggie Burleson to research Council minutes for August and September of 1992, to verify whether Council had ever approved the deal.
Vice Mayor Ed Hay remarked that the county had had problems dealing with the paving contractor during the project, ultimately penalizing the company $2,000 for failing to meet some job requirements. “That probably took a while to settle [and the bill to us] was lost in the shuffle,” he said.
“If staff’s [convinced] that we made the commitment, we ought to honor it,” observed Council member Chuck Cloninger.
Council will discuss the issue further at its June 23 meeting.