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Skateboarders may be left without options
City has discussed skate park, but plans still in conceptual stage as officials work to curtail skat
Hunter Collins stops by the Upper Deck Skate Shop Friday afternoon in downtown Gainesville to meet up with friends and fellow skateboarders.

The owner of Gainesville’s lone skate shop says a proposed city ordinance that means to ban skateboarders from public areas specifically targets her downtown business.

Meanwhile, city officials say they are looking to find a place where skateboarders can grind and ollie, two types of skate tricks, without causing destruction to city property.

Mary Paglia, owner of the Upper Deck Skate Shop in downtown Gainesville, said she is "extremely disappointed" by a city proposal to ban skateboarders from public areas, including the downtown square and Roosevelt Square. The City Council voted unanimously Feb. 16 to approve the measure; the ordinance requires a second vote of approval, which is scheduled for March 2.

City officials have said the ordinance will curb some of the vandalism problems the city has faced for the past few months.

But for Paglia, who has for the last eight years catered to the city’s skateboarding community from a small space in downtown’s Main Street Market, the ordinance hits her while she’s already down.

"We have struggled downtown. ... A lot of businesses have gone out (of business) in one of the deepest recessions that I can remember," she said. "And I have been one of the few businesses that can hang on. ... The City Council should be very pro business and this certainly is not that."

Paglia said she feels the ordinance will, in essence, turn teenage boys into criminals. And with no other public space available in the city for skateboarders to practice their sport, Paglia fears the ordinance may push the boarders into outlets like drugs.

"We should be progressive — we should be on the forefront of these things — rather than trying to put a ball and chain behind our community," Paglia said. "That’s what builds our community and makes it grow is to be progressive in our thinking."

She points to other communities that have provided an appropriate public space for residents to skate, and says that, on the weekends, Gwinnett County’s seven skate facilities are filled with cars, many of them with Hall County license plates.

Gwinnett County recreation officials opened their first skate facility in 2002 after residents involved in park planning processes expressed a need for one. And while the addition of skate parks hasn’t completely eliminated a problem with skateboarders in inappropriate areas, a Gwinnett park official said the venture has been successful.

"It’s safer to put them in a skate park than out in the parking lot," said Tina Fleming, director of operations of the county’s parks and recreation division. "And they’re going to find something to grind on if they don’t have a skate park."

City officials say they have looked for a number of years at the possibility of bringing a skate park to Gainesville. Hall County officials currently have plans for a skating facility in the Cool Springs park, a community center and park to be built in West Hall.

But in Gainesville, there are a number of factors holding city officials back. One of them is funding. Gwinnett County’s most recent skate facility, which included five "bowls" and other streetscape elements at Duncan Creek Park cost $1 million, Fleming said.

"Eventually, I would very much like to see a skateboard park," Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner said. "Right now, we don’t have the funds to do that, but we are trying to locate possible locations in the future. It might be several years down the road; I don’t want anybody to get excited that we’re going to build a skateboard park next week, but lots of teenagers really, really need one."

Gainesville’s deputy parks director Michael Graham said parks officials have been considering skate park facilities for years. Park officials have attended conferences on the subject and visited public and private skate parks in other counties. The department even held focus group meetings with skateboarders for about six months a few years ago, but plans for a real facility are still conceptual, he said.

Aside from funding, city officials have to consider liability. Gwinnett officials post signs at their skate facilities warning residents to use them at their own risk, and Graham said that is one option for Gainesville. But first, the city has to find an appropriate location.

The department once considered turning portions of Wessell Park into a skate facility, but backed down once neighborhood residents said no.

Now, a conceptual drawing for the city’s Midtown Greenway shows tentative plans for a skate park, and Graham said park officials are continuously on the lookout for good locations for skate facilities.

"Well ... it’s a concept, but like all concepts, it’s the idea that ‘hey, this is a great place for it, can we make it work?’" Graham said. But after participating in the city’s focus groups and seeing the idea for a skate facility at Wessell Park go down the half pipe, Paglia said she felt let down.

And while she said she is glad to see a skate park planned in the county, Paglia said she hopes City Council considers making more opportunities for skateboarders in the city limits before placing more limits on their activities.

"We need something here in the city to accommodate our inner city kids — that is really the group we need to accommodate," Paglia said.