Enthusiasts, council member say a second Lexington skate park is long overdue

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comMarch 9, 2014 

After more than three years of planning, design work will begin soon on Lexington's second skate park.

On Thursday, the Urban County Council unanimously approved a contract for Oregon-based Dreamland Skateparks for as much as $500,000 to design and build a skate park at Berry Hill Park off of Man o' War and Buckhorn Drive on the city's south side.

The city has set aside $575,000 for the project, but Council member George Myers — who has pushed for the skate park since the city shuttered the Berry Hill Park pool in 2011 — is helping to spearhead efforts to raise additional private funding for a $1 million skate park.

"I think there is opportunity for naming rights and in-kind donations," Myers said. "I know the skating community is really stoked about Dreamland."

Dreamland Skateparks is one of the premiere skate park designers in the country. According to its website, it has designed more than 60 skate parks around the world, including in Austria and Italy.

As part of its contract with the city, Dreamland will help the skaters decide what they want in a skate park and will also help with fundraising.

Evelyn Bologna, the interim director of Parks and Recreation, said Dreamland staff will probably be in Lexington sometime in April for a public meeting to get input from skateboarders, in-line skaters and others on what they want in the park.

Dreamland staffers will return again with a design and get additional input before construction begins, Bologna said. A date for the initial public hearing on the skate park has not yet been set.

Myers said he hopes that construction can begin this summer and that the skate park will be open before the end of this year. A lot depends on the weather, Bologna said.

The skate park will be approximately 30,000 square feet and is on the site of the former pool. The pool was shuttered in 2011, and the site was filled in a year later.

Woodland Park's skate park, built in 1999, made Lexington one of the first cities in the country with a skate park, Myers said.

No city money went into that park.

In response to complaints from downtown business owners tired of skateboarders and in-line skaters ruining property, the Triangle Foundation, a nonprofit, built Woodland skate park and then deeded it to the city, Myers said.

For BMX biker Ryan Weeks, a second skate park couldn't come soon enough. Weeks travels to Louisville, Florence and cities in Tennessee to ride in other skate parks.

"When Woodland Park was built, there wasn't a whole lot to compare it to," Weeks said. "But local skate parks have become pretty ubiquitous. People are getting better at building them."

Louisville's Extreme Park was built in 2002. It's more than 40,000 square feet and includes a 24-foot pipe. In comparison, Woodland Park is 12,000 square feet. The city also installed a small skate pad at Kirklevington Park in 2012. But it's small and flat, skaters said.

When Woodland Park was built, skaters were excited, said Steve Guynn, who has been skateboarding in Lexington since 1986. But skateboarding, in-line skating and BMX bike riding has grown and evolved since Woodland was built in 1999.

"If you go to Woodland Park on any given day, it's quite crowded," Guynn said. He often travels to Nicholasville and Dry Ridge to skateboard. Those parks are bigger and there are fewer people.

Louisville, Bowling Green, Florence and Dry Ridge are favorites for skateboarders, in-line skaters and BMX riders, Weeks said.

"They skip right over Lexington," Weeks said.

And Lexington is missing out on some potential tourism dollars, Weeks said. Most of these adventure tourists are in their 20s and 30s. They have money. They think local is better. "They like craft beer, not Bud Light," he said. "They want to eat at local restaurants, local food trucks, not Applebee's."

Myers agreed. The skate park is intended to bring new life to an aging park, but it can also be an economic development tool. Lexington hasn't capitalized enough on the growing field of action sports, Myers said.

For example, Louisville hosts an annual Ironman competition. "It brings in $5 million for the city a year," Myers said.

Skaters say that skate parks are also an investment in the city's teenagers and young adults.

Weeks, 28, has ridden since he was 16. In those 12 years, he has seen uncoordinated, shy kids become more confident, more fit and more comfortable in their own skin, he said.

They make friends and connections that can last a lifetime, he said.

"I met my wife at a skate park," he said.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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