by Eric Ginsburg
Planning for a skatepark in Greensboro is finally moving forward, but its champions still have strong concerns.
Almost a decade has passed since Greensboro voters approved funds for a skatepark in a bond referendum, and to a number of residents, the lack of movement on the project is a rallying cry for what is wrong with the city.
Possibly nobody in the city government understands that better than Councilman Mike Barber. To Barber, whose 13-year-old son loves longboarding, the recent opening of a temporary skatepark in Winston-Salem is salt in the wound.
“The genesis of the idea [in Winston-Salem] to their ribbon cutting was about a year,” he said. “We’re the biggest city in the Triad. We need to lead. We need to have everything first. We can participate in the Triad, but we are greater Greensboro.”
The municipal bond project often held up in contrast to the non-existent skatepark is the Greensboro Aquatic Center at the Coliseum, a facility championed by Barber.
“The Aquatic Center, that was the greatest criticism that I’ve ever received, that we did it too fast,” he said. “That is the kind of criticism you want. In many cases the world moves so quickly now that if a city becomes bureaucratic, by the time an issue is complete the world has moved on and it is obsolete.”
But now, there’s finally news about the skatepark.
Though the funding was long since approved by voters, Parks & Recreation Planning and Project Development Manager Nasha McCray said successive city councils didn’t secure funding for a skatepark. Last month, as part of its annual budget process, the current city council “approved the release of those dollars,” McCray said, enabling staff to move forward.
“Council does like to be mindful of debt service and being sure we can actually afford projects,” she said.
With the green light, McCray said her department has been able to start scouting locations.
“Initially a skatepark was planned for new Griffin Park near Adams Farm,” she said, referring to a previous, stalled effort. “However council asked us to look at maybe a more central location. Our idea is to try and get it as close to downtown as possible.”
McCray said the department is “considering” locations along the planned downtown greenway loop including along the eastern Murrow Boulevard side of downtown. The goal would be to “capture that foot traffic from the greenway” and consider accessibility from bus stops as well, she said.
The current plan is to build an outdoor skatepark because it would be easier to maintain and require fewer regulations than an indoor site, she said, though the exact size and scope hasn’t been determined.
“There are so many things happening downtown that it’s just a matter of making sure all the pieces are working together,” McCray said. “I think we should have something settled [for a location] in the next couple of months. I think it should be maybe by the fall.”
The overall timeline —which includes contracting a design firm, construction and more — is too long for Barber.
“I understand there are plans percolating but let’s get something up… and then look at a more elaborate plan,” he said. “We should be able to cut a ribbon next March 1st even if it’s an outdoor facility that establishes that we support this group and we can look forward to bigger and better things but it will be completely adequate and functional in the meantime.”
Years ago, after voters approved the bond item for a skatepark, Barber visited Boone and learned about a park that the city pulled together in 90 days with a relatively tight budget using prefabricated material.
“This is like a hotel with no soap,” he said. “This is a basic. We have so much to be proud of but we shouldn’t have anything that seems like we can’t get off Go, especially when the funds are there.”
McCray said her department “hadn’t originally considered” a prefab, quicker turnaround project in part because they haven’t heard from skateboarders that it’s something they desire. Prefab pieces aren’t as functional, she said, but the primary concern would be about safety. Her department has worked extensively with local skaters, she said, adding that they invite continued feedback and participation moving forward.
Skate-park advocates said they like the idea of a park being centrally located, but a downtown site introduces a new set of problems.
“I believe to this day that skateboarding is illegal downtown,” said Pete Schroth, the lighting designer for the Avett Brothers and the downtown Greensboro pioneer who started the Green Bean. “I know I’ve had multiple friends cited, ticketed, skateboards taken away from them, and then they have to go to court to get their skateboards back. There are no signs or anything downtown that say it is illegal.”
He’s talking about people like him, who are in their forties and are mostly using boards as a mode of transportation.
Greensboro City Code Sec. 16-222 forbids skateboarding, rollerskates and scooters from streets, sidewalks and municipal buildings and parking decks in the city’s Central Business District, which covers a significant portion of what is typically considered downtown.
Schroth and others would like to see that change.
“If it’s going to be a year before they build something, I think a good Step 1 would be a goodwill gesture of making it legal,” Schroth said. “I really do think [that a skatepark] would be huge and it would be very progressive of our city to do that. It would be a little late but it would still make perfect sense.
“With me traveling around with the Avett Brothers all over the country,” he continued, “I am amazed at how many skateparks I come across that are outside and owned by cities and don’t have fences up… just like basketball courts in any other park. I don’t feel like skateboarding is something that needs to be policed if we do it, and I’ve seen it working all over the place.”
Brandon Swiderski, who has skated in Greensboro since moving to town about three years ago, raised similar issues.
“I have never lived in, or even visited a city that enforces so heavily upon skateboarding, specifically in the downtown district,” Swiderski said. “Regardless of downtown being pretty lacking in spots, police are super strict about even riding your board for transportation. I’ve heard of some pretty hefty fines, citations, board confiscations and even arrests just for skateboarding.”
Chef Kristina Fuller, owner of Crafted in downtown Greensboro, stopped skating when she was about 22 but said she hears regularly from friends who wish they had somewhere to go.
“Skating is one of those things that no matter where you come from or what your background is you can us it as an outlet and an escape, if you will,” Fuller said. “It’s something that kids can take pride in, something that encourages them to do better. A skatepark would provide them with a place to go and not get in trouble for doing something they love.”