The closest skateboard park in south St. Pete is at Lake Vista Park, pictured here
BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG –The debate over whether a new skate park will prove beneficial to the Campbell Park community is still ongoing, especially in minds of community stakeholders and members of the Campbell Park Neighborhood Association.
With promises of economic development looming on the horizon with its construction, it’s pretty much a done deal. But there are some who are still searching for answers, questioning the real business opportunities that will be available to the community and yes, the relevancy of a skate park in a black neighborhood.
“Members of the community were concerned if youth from the community would actually utilize the skate park,” said Coy LaSister, president of the Campbell Park Neighborhood Association. Many questioned if local kids would buy into a sport that has been marketed predominately toward white teens.
But at Campbell Park’s monthly neighborhood association meeting, various members of the community began to see the silver lining after hearing about the success of the skateboard facilities in Tampa and Bradenton and the prospect of attracting national recognition through competitions.
“Kids are chomping at the bit to be involved in a skate park,” said Otto Dicpetris, who just moved into the Campbell Park neighborhood and was spurred to take residence upon hearing the news that the idea of a skate park was brewing.
In fact, he drives all over St. Pete, Tampa, even Lakeland for the opportunity to skate. Raised in Childs Park, Dicpetris believes any area set aside for youths is a good investment in the future.
“I know the issues that exist in the community,” said Dicpetris, privy to the hardships of rising up and bypassing all the destructive routes that people tend to turn to in areas of economic hardship. “We have to not limit ourselves because we’re poor and all we can think about is money. We have to think about living a quality life.”
But the promise of economic development in the roughly nine-block radius known as Campbell Park to some does hold the promise of a better life for residents. So when the Small Business Enterprise participation goal that has been set at 30 percent for other projects was abandoned when it came to the skate park and instead only five percent offered allotting to approximately $62,000 toward small business, questions arose.
Councilmember Karl Nurse was at the meeting and took the time to not only address the business aspect of the skate park, but to explain how Campbell Park was chosen as the final resting place of the project.
It all began with USF students wanting a place to legally skate. With a skate ban on the streets of downtown, and a petition with over 2,500 signatures, the city decided to invest money in a skate park. After many other locations didn’t pan out, Campbell Park was chosen.
“Campbell was hilly and so not useable for football, baseball, basketball, soccer, any of those social sports, so it worked,” said Nurse. “What was a liability for the other sports was an asset for this sport.”
The appeal of Campbell Park also had a lot to do with already existing bathrooms and nearby parking to accommodate visitors, which leaves more of the 1.25 million dollars allocated for the project to be put into the actual facilities, rendering a superior skate park that could offer amenities not only for the beginning skater, but the seasoned pro.
But the main discord consistently came back to money and jobs, specifically for the Campbell Park residents who are displaced workers in an unforgiving economy.
“I hear a lot about economic development and attracting dollars from outside the area into the area,” said Erik Range of BFA Environmental. “But what I don’t hear are jobs for the people who are already in the area.
With the birth of the 2020 Taskforce and its promise to eliminate or reduce poverty by 30 percent by 2020, impoverished neighborhoods look to the upcoming construction projects to revitalize their neighborhood and bring work to its out of work residents, especially those with experience in the trade.
But Nurse believes the project is a win for Campbell Park because both the hard to hire and apprenticeships programs can operate for the skate park construction project helping out local residents, while bringing another asset to the community.
“I don’t care if kids skate, swim, play tennis or basketball as long as kids are playing that’s a good thing,” said Nurse.
And new resident Dicpetris concurred. The opportunity to touch the lives of youth, reduce obesity in the community through physical exercise and the prospect of community members using Campbell Park as a gathering area to socialize and strengthen community bonds is the greater reward.
“I think you have the best of intentions to try to encourage economic growth in the area,” he said, “but the fact of the matter is we don’t build a basketball court and say, ‘how can that benefit jobs?’ We do it because it’s part of life.”
Dicpetris mentioned that Anchor Skate Supply is slated to move into the empty building, located at 501 16th St. S, once the skate park opens.
“I think that jobs follow infrastructure growth. If you don’t have a road into the middle of nowhere, there’s not going to be any jobs at the end of that nonexistent road,” he said.
There is still more to be hammered out, such as will there be mentoring opportunities and programs offered through the recreation center to get more black youth involved? And will the Campbell Park Neighborhood Association be able to garner a better deal when it comes to small businesses and jobs? But the dialogue has started.
Unfortunately, Dicpetris was the only resident of Campbell Park to come to the November meeting. If residents would like to have more of a say on what goes on in their neighborhood, they must be more civic minded.