Waiting for a Primo Park

Rainey Beres, 14, performs a trick using the concrete skate facility at Lady Bird Johnson Park. Rainey is the son of Raegan Beres, vice president of the San Antonio Skatepark Association.

If you had asked San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department projects manager Scott E. Stover what an ollie or a grind was 10 years ago, he probably would have fumbled around his desk for a dictionary. The two customized - albeit wheel-less - skateboards leaning against his office wall in the City Hall Annex show how far he has come in the last decade.

"They didn't give me wheels because they said they didn't want me to break my neck," Stover says as he shows off the skateboards, given to him as a gift from members of the San Antonio Skatepark Association. "They might look like a rough group sometimes, but they are actually pretty nice to work with."

Only three years ago, such a close relationship between the local skateboarding community and city officials would have been a pipe dream. San Antonio had only one city-sanctioned skate park, Springtime `see "Live to Skate, Skate to Live," April 10-16, 2003`. Now, the city, considered the second largest U.S. skateboarding market after Las Vegas by some accounts, boasts seven.

2003 was also the year that skateboarding activist Carter Dennis rubbed some municipal administrators the wrong way by criticizing their skate-park construction procedures. Three years later, Dennis is still in the thick of the skateboarding community and admits that butting heads with the Parks and Recreation Department in the past was not productive for either side.

"I was pretty mad at the city at the time because they weren't really listening to us," says Dennis, 30, who is the founder and current president of SASA. "But now, I've learned the right way is to be politically correct about the whole thing. You really have to work together."

Stover, who has been with Parks and Recreation for 13 years, remembers the first time a group of skateboarders came into the agency's offices in 1997 to demand that San Antonio keep up with cities across the nation that were already funding extreme sports complexes.

"It was an education process," Stover said. "`The skaters` were educating me on what skate parks were and what they needed and wanted, and I was educating them on the city process and how city government works."

Since Springtime received its first mixed reviews, six more skate parks have been positioned across the city, including Normoyle Park, San Pedro Springs Park, and the most recent, Oscar Perez Memorial Park, which opened to the public July 8. Stover estimates $500,000-750,000 has been spent on skate parks during the past three years.

A skateboarder performs a trick using the ramps and rails at Springtime Skatepark.

In February 2006, San Antonio ushered in a new skate-park era when Parks and Recreation opened Lady Bird Johnson Park, the city's first concrete skate park. More expensive than modular skate parks, concrete skate parks last longer and, in some studies, prove to be less noisy than the prefabricated versions the city has installed elsewhere.

"The problem with steel is that it rusts, and the problem with wood is that it rots out," Dennis said, adding that SASA raises funds through skateboarding competitions to help purchase and maintain equipment at the skate parks. "But if you do it in concrete, it lasts forever."

"A lot of our modular stuff takes a beating," Stover admits. "We would like more concrete skate parks, but, of course, a lot of the times, those cost a lot more money."

Despite the sturdy look of LBJ before its February grand opening, Dennis said he was disappointed to see serious design flaws in the concrete structures. He told the Skaters for Skateparks Association, a national nonprofit advocacy organization, that LBJ was built by a local contractor that had no experience in skate-park construction.

"The dimensions were messed up and not specified correctly," said Dennis, who has worked as a skate-park designer. "A lot of contractors that are excellent at pouring sidewalks will never figure out how to do a bowl for skateboarding. It's a real tedious kind of construction."

Parks and Recreation agreed with Dennis's assessment after he explained the dangers of skateboarding on poorly designed equipment, and LBJ was reworked to give skaters a safer place to ride.

"For LBJ, we could have used more experience on our end," Stover said. "But at the end, the skate park was successful." But Austin's Public Skatepark Action Committee spokesperson Seth Johnson, who has ridden on LBJ, wrote in a recent blog that SA skate parks still leave much to be desired.

"Hopefully the skaters in San Antonio will recognize this facility for what it is - a bold investment in them," Johnson wrote. "Yes, there's a lot of clumsiness in the implementation but this can be a lesson in what a city shouldn't try to do on its own and instead should hire experienced contractors to handle."

Brackenridge High School junior Chris Gomez said a skate park's design is what makes it appealing. "The design of a skate park either brings skaters or drives them away," Gomez says. "If you build something with a huge half-pipe, not everyone is gonna skate that."

On the other hand, Adam Monsen, a John Paul Stevens High School sophomore, says a skate park is a skate park no matter what the blueprints read.

"It would be pretty cool have a skate park designed by a person who actually knows what they're doing, but I really don't care much," Monsen, 15, said. "If you have an imagination you can think of how to skate any park."

Joaquin Herrera, owner of San Antonio's Deadwood Skateboards, agrees that it's all about making the best of what you have. "I would rather have something to complain about than having nothing to complain about," Herrera, 30, said. "I mean, `the city` could have easily built tennis courts or basketball hoops ... but we got skateparks!

"On a much larger scale, you can compare the building of the Alamodome for the Spurs to skate parks. Did it work? Yes. Did it work nicely? No. But it served its purpose." Yet, why not just hire an experienced skate-park contractor and eliminate the mishaps that can occur with a general contractor?

"We have general contractors build the entire park because it's always more than just a skate-park they are building," Stover says. A skate park contractor would probably do a better job of designing the skateboarding aspects of the parks, he admits, but there are other facilities, including parking lots, walkways, and restrooms.

Stover adds that Parks and Recreation is not allowed to skip the bidding process to choose a particular contractor. "It has to be a competitive bid," he says. What Parks and Recreation can do is add specifications to proposals when requesting bids from contracting companies. If a general contractor wins a parks project bid with a planned skate park and does not have experience in skatepark construction, the city can ask that a qualified skate-park designer be on site as a consultant.

"It would be like `the skate-park designer` is on their team," Stover says. "Just like they would have an electrical engineer, or an architect, or any other discipline."

These stipulations, however, did not seem to be implemented by May 2006 when the city unveiled its newest skate park at South Side Lions Park, which, according to Dennis, had been anticipated for five years.

"When I pulled up and saw that rinky-dink skate park, I was crushed," recalls Dennis. The problems, he said, stemmed from a limited concrete perimeter, where a modular ramp was placed. "It was completely dysfunctional."

Dennis contacted Parks and Rec, and his newfound rapport with city officials over the past couple of years again resulted in immediate action. "`Parks and Recreation` knew there was a problem and got on it right away," Dennis says. "They were really receptive to our response. It goes to show our relationship has improved 100 percent."

Dennis and Stover say they are hoping to see more skate parks the future for San Antonio. For Dennis, this means branching away from constructing small, neighborhood, modular skate parks for beginners (although at least one more is planned, for the Medina Base Road-area in August), and instead focusing on more challenging, concrete, outdoor recreational facilities. "I'm really about doing it right the first time," Dennis said. "I want to show these skateboarders we are investing in them for the long run."

For Stover, this means sticking to his department's 10-year master plan, which was announced in May and includes a number of new skate parks and skatepark additions. Realizing the plan, Stover says, depends on a proposed $550-million citywide bond package that will be presented to voters in May 2007. Almost $13 million of the bond would support a number of Parks and Rec projects, the largest being a new, $3.5-million youth activity community center near Highway 90 in District 5 that would include a gymnasium, a splash pad, and, of course, a skate park.

Dennis says SASA's next step is to start pitching the benefits of more local skate parks to City Council, which allocates bond monies to the various city departments. The first meetings between SASA and individual Council members is expected sometime in August.

"I want to help build something to keep kids from skateboarding on the streets and getting into trouble," Dennis said. "With skate parks, we can give them a safe environment."


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