DJ Complex skating at Lake Vista Park in south St. Pete.
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — A skate park slated for construction next year in Campbell Park has met with some bumps in the pavement.
A public meeting last month at the Campbell Park Recreation Center was supposed to be simply about the design of the skate park, but some residents seized the chance to voice objections over its location and utility in their neighborhood.
Maria L. Scruggs, president of the NAACP, St. Petersburg Branch, wondered how this particular project moved forward when the residents of the community itself were not a part of the process. Why would the city invest in and support a skate park when there are other more pressing socio-economic issues in the community?
“This was the only opportunity we’ve had as a community. We got an invitation after the deal was already cut,” she stated.
Scruggs said she took exception when this city-funded project in Campbell Park was not one that the community wanted or even requested. Councilmember Karl Nurse addressed how the city funded the proposed skate park.
“We have a fund in the city called the Weeki Wachee Fund,” Nurse explained, adding that it can only be used for recreational projects.
The council meetings for such proposed projects—including the Campbell Park skate park— were all open to the public and allowed anyone to speak, Nurse pointed out. Any proposed project requires at least five votes by the council members for it to move forward.
“So the public got five opportunities to say whether they wanted this or not,” Nurse said.
Scruggs said the community is willing to welcome anyone, but city council should support the people who are already here.
“This has been a project that we’ve been talking about for a very long time at this point,” explained Mike Jefferies, director of Parks and Recreation. “We’ve had many meetings, we’ve had several council meetings, we’ve had several workshops already.”
He added: “If you’re going to build a park you want to build a skate park that was good enough for competitions and if it’s good enough for competitions, I can also make the economic development argument.”
Former Councilmember Wengay Newton pointed out that the skate park was initially proposed for such various locations around the city as Albert Whitted Park, the Tyrone area, Spa Beach and 22nd Street. He said the project “went all over the place before it landed in Campbell Park.” The funds had already been set aside before a location had even been chosen. Newton himself had supported a new rubber track for Gibbs High School over the skate park.
Scruggs continued to voice her displeasure: “We have been involved in a three-year planning process with the CRA,” she said. “There was absolutely not one issue brought up about a skate park. And then for $1 million to show up to support the skate park?”
Scruggs said it didn’t matter how many places they initially looked at to build the skate park, it ended up in a neighborhood without the support of its residents.
Coy LaSister, president of the Campbell Park Neighborhood Association, argued that the skate park can be an excellent benefit to the community, as it will bring brings jobs and contract opportunities to the area.
“People come to me and they ask me, ‘How can I participate in this project? What kind of jobs can I get in terms of construction of this project?’”
Young people, he said, have shown interest in learning to skateboard or even participating in skate competitions.
Yet Scruggs remained skeptical, and though she offered support of the project overall, insisted that it should not have found a home in Campbell Park.
“I believe that we need to be putting the money into resources that are going to help build and help this community,” she said.
DJ Complex, a software engineer in his early 30s, has been skateboarding since he was a boy living in New York City. He admitted he would use the skate park himself, but wondered if many others in the predominantly black neighborhood would.
“Why did they build this here?” he questioned. “I don’t know if people in this community will really take advantage of that,” he said. “Why not spend that money and do something that people in this community will actually use?”
Complex said that thinking outside the sports box might have been another way to go, as he speculated a new technology center might be beneficial to young people. Citing the schedules of many working class people, he added that a lot of them don’t have the opportunity to attend many city council meetings, where their voices could’ve been heard about the feasibility of the skate park being built in that area.
“It’s just a weird place to put a skate park,” he said. “I would have liked some community input. It’s interesting how it just popped up. I understand they have council meetings and they can be seen on the city channel at like 2 a.m.”
However, residents can’t voice their opinions when watching at home, and if you are a Bright House customer, you can only view the city’s channel if you have digital cable, not analog.
DJ Complex said the city needs to be more proactive about informing the neighborhoods, and suggested more online visibility and leaflets in the water bill. He pointed to the recycling campaigned that took place last summer.
“Maybe they should roll out a campaign for just more public awareness on city activities,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a good thing. It’s a place where kids can come. It’s a positive thing and I won’t deny that, but it’s just interesting how it happened.”