North or South?

Published 11:55 pm Friday, October 2, 2009

Suffolk city officials are continuing to look into a proposal to build a skate park in Bennett’s Creek Park, but some people in the area’s skateboarding community are questioning the location.

“I would like to see them put it in the heart of the city, instead of trying to relocate downtown to northern Suffolk,” Marcus Robertson, a manager at the Bike West shop on North Main Street. “That area is closer to a skate park than we are here.”

The skate park, proposed for an area in Bennett’s Creek Park, still is in its early phases, Parks and Recreation director Lakita Frazier told council members during their retreat last week.

“We’ve identified a site, but want to get better estimates on the cost,” Frazier said Friday. “We’re working on an RFP process to allow individuals to submit their proposals and compare to our cash on hand.”

The city has applied for a Tony Hawk Grant to fund part of the project and it hopes to use existing funding to cover the rest of the cost, Frazier said.

“Once we put out for the grant, it will give us a better idea of how far we can go with the project, but it’s definitely looking promising,” Frazier said.

Robertson hopes to see the park get moved closer to downtown, he said. Skaters from the city’s core now travel to Franklin or Currituck County, N.C., for a skate park.

“It seems like northern Suffolk is closer to a lot of others,” Robertson said.

But, he added, “I’d like to see something rather than nothing.”

The Bennett’s Creek area is about 26 minutes from a skate park in Chesapeake’s Greenbrier area, according to an online mapping site. Skaters from downtown must drive about 31 minutes to get to that Greenbrier park. They would drive about 21 minutes to a Bennett’s creek park.

The results of a survey revealed at the council retreat indicate about 50 percent of skaters in Suffolk go to the Mount Trashmore site in Virginia Beach for a skate park. The other half are split about evenly between Isle of Wight County, Franklin, Chesapeake and other localities.

Robertson also expressed concern about who would build the park and what kind of material would be used — both details that would be decided through a request for proposals process.

“The most important thing is to get something going out here that’s not ball sports,” Robertson said.

During the council retreat, Councilmen Charles Brown and Leroy Bennett expressed strong support for the idea.

“I think this will get them off the street,” Bennett said, responding to a comment by Mayor Linda T. Johnson that skaters sometimes leave their homemade ramps in the middle of residential streets. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Brown echoed Bennett’s comments, adding he wants the park made as safe as possible.

Councilman Charles Parr, however, hedged on the idea, saying the park could open the city up for lawsuits.

“Are we going to be liable if they break their arm?” he asked.

Frazier recommended posting signs warning that skaters would skate at their own risk, encouraging them to wear protective gear, and not staffing the park. Having a staff member there, Frazier said, opens the city up to more lawsuits than not staffing it. The park would be locked at night, she added.

Parr still seemed uncertain.

“I’d rather see it done on a private (land), because people will sue you,” he said.

Robertson said Friday he hopes the city won’t micromanage the park, wherever it is built.

“I’ve been to some parks that make you put pads head to toe,” he said. “It’s kind of ridiculous for somebody over the age of 18.”