As reported in the March 2 edition of the Gabber the Tomlinson Lake Park skate park has been closed and Gulfport City Council unanimously decided to apply for a grant to build one in a proposed location at the Gulfport Recreation Center.
The grant would supply $62,500 and the city would match that from the Penny for Pinellas tax fund, bringing the total to $125,000.
The plan, as of now, is to build the skate park on top of the existing outdoor basketball courts bordered by 58th Street at the Recreation Center. However, some residents of the neighboring Town Shores community find that to be an inconvenient location for what they see as a potentially unruly park.
“My main concern is supervision,” Town Shores resident June Bucy said over the phone. Bucy is a three-year resident of Town Shores’ Dover building, the second-closest building to the proposed skate park site.
“Where the skate park was located [in Tomlinson Lake Park], there were problems with vandalism, there were problems with noise; they had a variety of problems,” Bucy said. “I do not understand why we would move those same problems from one area to another one.”
According to City Manager Jim O’Reilly, however, the purpose of moving the skate park to the Recreation Center is to improve supervision. Though he said it was currently “too far out” to have set plans in place, he does “anticipate that the park will close at 9 p.m.” along with the Rec Center itself. O’Reilly also explained that preliminary plans include the park being fenced off from the outside and the city will continue to maintain the high shrubbery that separates it from 58th Street.
Still, Bucy says she would still like to see 24-hour supervision.
“I think as long as the skate park is there, I don’t know how you would stop people from using it at night,” she said.
Roger Bell, who is employed by Town Shores, shared his personal concerns over the park being built in such close proximity.
“I feel there are many more disadvantages as opposed to advantages in this situation,” Bell said. “Our main issue is the noise pollutant and the sounds of the skateboards will make. That’s not an uncommon factor with skate parks.”
“Noise levels are always the number one concern from the opponents of public skate parks,” says Gulfport resident Nick Nicks.
Nicks is no stranger to skate park opposition. At 41, he is still an avid skateboarder and helped spearhead the campaign to build a new skate park in downtown St. Petersburg.
“The truth of the matter is that the decibel level of skate parks is no more than any active public park,” Nicks explained. “All noise level studies on public skate parks dating all the way back to the earliest in Portland, Oregon in 2001 have confirmed this. For example, the average decibel reading of a public skate park is 65. In contrast, ‘normal street noise’ is a 70, a ‘noisy restaurant’ is an 85, a ‘passing truck’ is a 100, and a ‘leaf blower’ is a 105.”
Nicks notes that the issue may be about more than skateboarding.
“I do think it is worth pointing out the irony in the fact that these folks are opposing the construction of a skate park at a municipal recreation center,” Nicks continued. “They have even complained about the basketball court being used so much. Not sure how you move in next door to a thriving, active recreation center, and then complain about the success of said recreation center.”
When asked, Bell echoed resident Bucy’s concerns over behavior some people have associated with the skate park.
“Another problem I foresee is the vandalism of the previous skate park in Tomlinson Park, which some of the residents in [that] area have said occurred and helped in the result of the former skate park being shut down,” Bell said. “I was even told of drug paraphernalia such as used needles and used prophylactics on the ground.”
According to statistics compiled by the Gulfport Police Department, from January 2014 to March 30, 2015 the police conducted 79 “area checks” at Tomlinson Lake. In that time, there was only one call for vandalism, one for trespassing, two calls for disorderly conduct and three noise complaints. In that same year, there were also four calls listed as “juvenile trouble,” and three suspicious person calls.
Nicks believes that calls like these are not necessarily people who use the skate park.
“Personally, I have not seen or heard any evidence to suggest that legitimate users of the skate park were responsible for any vandalism or criminal activity,” Nicks said. “As a matter of fact, most of the time it is not skateboarders or users of the park that are problematic.”
Bell knows that the residents of Town Shores will likely not be convinced. It’s a situation that could come to a head if the skate park moves forward.
“One hundred percent of my 1,327 residential units pay their taxes to the city of Gulfport and not one hundred percent of my residents are for the skate park,” Bell said. “We aren’t solving any problem, we are simply creating another and another.”
As city officials have continued to remind residents, plans for the skate park are not set in stone; the grant money has not been awarded yet, and the city will continue to hear input.
Said O’Reilly, “Nothing is happening overnight.”