by Eric Ginsburg
A new advisory team made up of skaters, parents, a cyclist and city staff is quietly pushing a Greensboro skatepark forward.
Practically a decade has elapsed since Greensboro voters approved a bond item for a skatepark, but the people who would use it have been waiting even longer. That’s why they’re moving forward quietly, behind the scenes, to advance their cause.
But this time, they’re sitting at the table.
Previous city councils had declined to take action on the park while moving swiftly on later bond referendums such as the Greensboro Aquatic Center. But after the current Greensboro City Council authorized the bond last year, the ball finally started to move on a $575,000 bond referendum for a skatepark, passed by voters in 2006. If all goes well, the project could be in the design phase by this summer.
When city council took action, Nasha McCray, the planning and project management division manager, already knew who needed to be brought to the table; she had been in touch with them for years.
“When you’re trying to look for a location or to develop a project it make sense to work with those who would be using it, because they know best,” McCray said.
That’s why she reached out to people like Fabio Camara, a photographer who skated competitively as a kid in Brazil. He even had a sponsorship.
“I’ve been skating, gosh, since 1987,” Camara said. “Really it was my life, but I started building a business and took off too many years.”
But several years ago he decided to plunge back into skating after seeing other people his age doing it.
Camara, 44, instantly connects with any skater who looks older than 30 “because we do a sport that we have no business doing.”
McCray and Camara assembled a skatepark advisory team, including other longtime skaters like John Babiarz who Camara said has been skating since the ’70s. But overall, the team is comprised of people with a wealth of connections to skating.
Tyler Benedict is more of a cyclist — he runs bikerumor.com — so his reason for rallying behind the skatepark is slightly different.
“I’ve got kids around the age that would start using it,” he said. “It’s a great resource to have.”
That’s not his only reason; Benedict has ridden at a few skateparks before, the nicest of which is in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“I’ve got the right kind of bikes; I’d take them out there the first chance I got,” he said of the planned Greensboro park. “It’s great because it’s totally different what you get riding on mountain bike trails or the road. It’s just something new and different and fun.”
Benedict is also attracted to the prospect of providing a safe, structured environment for people to learn the sport rather than “randomly in the streets.” And he sees it as an opportunity for Greensboro to have something many other cities don’t, an asset that could attract young professionals, families and skaters to visit or move to town.
The committee, consisting of Camara, Babiarz, Benedict and seven others, started meeting in early 2015. There have been only two meetings so far, but the team has gathered informally several times to check out potential skatepark locations around the city, Benedict said.
The team has three charges, McCray said: to develop criteria for a Request for Qualifications for firms interested in designing and building the park, to help evaluate potential sites and to help with public outreach for city input meetings.
About 20 to 25 locations around the city have been considered, some of them far-fetched, McCray said. Of those, two or three “ranked a little higher” that are along the Downtown Greenway, she said, in part because the group is concerned with accessibility.
The committee has discussed adding a “skate dots” — small, one-component areas of about 1,500 square feet — in different parts of the city. Members also talked about “skate spots,” that would be a little larger, about the size of half a basketball court, with two or three elements meant for trying multiple tricks, McCray said. Comparing the initiative to the city’s interconnected trail system, she said the team has expressed some interest in small skating options spread out geographically. The goal is to wind up with at least a dot feature along the Downtown Greenway, McCray said.
That flexibility in discussion has impressed Benedict and Camara, who said they are very pleased with the city’s openness to suggestions.
“I’ve been surprised how well things have been progressing and how much the city has been incredibly willing to collaborate with us on this project,” Camara said. “It makes for a much more successful public park when you get the people who do the sport to have some say every step of the way.”
The committee is still in the initial stages, everyone emphasizes. The Request for Qualifications hasn’t been sent out yet — McCray’s goal is to update city council “in the next few weeks” to green-light the Request for Qualifications.
In the interim the skatepark advisory team isn’t holding any formal meetings, but will reconvene once responses come in. Even though the team has only technically met twice, McCray said the input has been invaluable. They’ve even helped identify firms with plans to encourage them to submit bids, Camara said.
And depending on how quickly the city receives responses and selects someone, McCray hopes the design process and community forums could take place as early as this summer.
Camara is cautiously optimistic, which makes sense considering how many years the process has taken and how many elements are out of the skaters’ control. But if the advisory team is any indication, he and Benedict feel there’s a reason to be hopeful.
“As far as I can tell it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen very soon,” Benedict said, “we’re just working on the details to make sure it happens in the right location and is built the right way.”