Roanoke city council wants skate park in master plan after previous exclusion, but with a catch

Current skate park is old, will be demolished when bridge above it comes down

By Shayne Dwyer - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - The fight for a new skatepark isn't over yet. Monday's city council meeting was standing room only as they discussed the city's new parks and recreation master plan, which going into the meeting left skaters out. But thanks to advocacy from skaters young and old, the issue is now in overtime.

Roanoke city leaders have been behind the skateboarders since nearly day one and they were just as disappointed as the skateboarders were to see skating not included in the master plan, which builds a priority list based on citizen surveys and the funding available to do the projects.

City Manager Bob Cowell said the plan was developed to be fiscally realistic, that is include actual achievable goals based on available funds and not just grand ideas that look good on paper but can never happen.

But Monday night council agreed on a way to move forward, asking city staff to add the skatepark to the master plan on the condition that outside funds are secured to pay for it.

Many skaters by nature will tell you they're against the man, but Monday night they came to plead with the man for a place to safely skate in Roanoke.

"Roanoke wants to be progressive, I applaud that, here is your opportunity to do something for a large demographic that nobody ever stands up for, or speaks up for," supporter Chad Clark said.

Years of discussions have happened over a replacement park for the one in Wasena which will be demolished when the bridge above it is replaced. The Roanoke Skatepark Initiative had felt good about getting a replacement until the new master plan came out and skateboarding wasn't on the priority list. The city's hired consultant explained its surveys founding skating low on the list compared to pools, greenways and recreation centers when the limited amount of funding is considered.

Parks and Recreation Director Michael Clark is in favor of a skate park, but said it's hard to argue with the data from the statistically valid survey.

"(We know) that with a level of accuracy of 95% that those same exact answers would be replicated over and over within a five percent margin of error," Clark said.

Members of city council were impressed with the showing of support and the amount of fundraising the non-profit group has collected on its own. Vice-Mayor Joe Cobb has been an advocate for the group in his time on council.

"I have no doubt that Roanoke will have a state of the art skatepark, how we get there and when we get there is really contingent on how we all work together," Cobb said.

William Sellari is a board member of the non-profit and said it's in skaters DNA to be wary of authority, but that he and others felt the support from council and are encouraged by Monday's meeting.

"I think they really understand that our ability to get grants and funding for a skatepark pending on a commitment from the city and I think a lot of what we heard was a definete commitment from the city about doing just that," Sellari said.

City Council will pick this discussion back up at its meeting in the first week of August. If they do approve the version of the master plan that includes a skatepark, it does not guarantee that a skatepark will be built, but rather that skaters can continue to have a seat at the table moving forward.

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