The Royal Palm Beach Village Council decided last week to include construction of a skateboard and inline skate park in its five-year capital plan.
On Thursday, April 5, the council agreed to support the park and work with local skaters who made a request for such a park at a recent meeting.
Last month, young skateboard aficionado Derick Murray asked the council to support the project, and the council directed village staff to look into it.
Parks & Recreation Director Lou Recchio said he met with local skaters several times to get their input on how a park should be built. He said he also did research on skateboard parks and presented his ideas to the Recreation Advisory Board on March 26, which unanimously recommended support of a skate park.
Inline skating and freestyle bicycling are two of the fastest-growing recreational activities in the nation, Recchio said. “Over 6.8 percent of Americans skateboard, which is roughly 12 million people. Royal Palm Beach, with a population of about 31,000, if you take that 6.8 percent, we have in essence over 2,000 skateboarders in the village. Skateboarding is more popular to youth ages 6 to 17 than baseball, believe it or not.”
Today, skateboarding represents a multi-million-dollar industry, he said. In the early 2000s, professional skateboarders earned between $1,000 and $10,000 a month, but there are fewer skateboarding facilities than for other sports. The amount of land set aside for organized sports such as football, baseball and soccer is about 12,000 times the size of land set aside for skateboarding despite its growing popularity, Recchio added.
“Skaters are forced to use streets, parking lots, shopping centers, etc., due to lack of facilities,” he said. “Law enforcement uses vital resources in response to trespassing and vandalism caused due to the lack of skate facilities.”
Recchio pointed out that recent state statutes encourage local governments to make land available to the public for skateboarding, inline skating and freestyle bicycling.
“The statute also addresses concerns regarding liability,” he said, “whereby the state recognizes that risks and dangers are inherent to these activities, [and that] risks and dangers should be assumed by those participating in such activities.”
The fear of litigation is the primary reason why municipalities do not build skate parks, he said. “Poorly designed, improperly constructed and unmaintained facilities increase the rate of injuries,” Recchio said. “However, most skateboarders see injuries as a badge of honor.”
Other facilities, such as football, baseball and soccer fields, have a higher rate of injury, he said, although he thought since much skateboarding is unsupervised, injuries could be underreported. “If you talk to the kids out here that are actually skateboarding, they will confirm the fact that they don’t have to tell anybody,” he said.
Most skateboard-related injuries occur on homemade ramps or skating in unsafe areas and too close to traffic, Recchio said. “One-third of skateboard injuries are suffered by those who have less than one week of skateboarding experience,” he said.
Skate parks built in well-lit areas with high traffic have lower vagrancy and vandalism. “Generally, poorly planned facilities, site location and visibility result in higher crime rates,” he said. “There are myths that prevent most municipalities from developing skate parks.”
Recchio proposed a 10,000-square-foot site west of the basketball courts at the heavily used Camellia Park for a skate park. “Down there, we have six tennis courts with two basketball courts, which are very heavily used, and what is proposed here is to construct the area right next to the basketball courts,” he said.
If the popularity of skateboarding should wane down the line, it could be easily converted to additional basketball courts, he said.
Murray, who was accompanied by about a dozen other young skaters, presented a petition with 81 signatures of other skaters indicating they would use the park and reiterated his request for the village to pursue construction of a skate park. “It would be better than us going out into the street and getting into trouble,” he said.
Former Councilman Dave Swift pointed out that Royal Palm Beach once had a skate park, but a poorly selected location and other problems led to its disuse.
“We all did this once, and what I got out of it was basically, I think we picked the wrong location,” he said. “It was not particularly popular to kids, being down at the Recreation Center.”
Swift noted that skaters often tire of staying at the same place to skate.
“What I got out of it was the kids kind of looked at these areas to skate on and they got old, and they were looking for new, more exciting places to skate,” he said. “How would you keep it current? What information do we have to show that if we spend the money to do this that it would actually be utilized for a period of five years or so in the location that we’re proposing?”
Recchio said he had met with the youth and skate park directors to get information on park design.
He also explained that the skate park the village had 10 years ago required helmets and kneepads and elbow pads, and actually bought them to supply the skaters. They also had a full-time supervisor. “It got very expensive, kids weren’t showing up, and we converted it to basketball courts,” he said.
Recchio said he had met recently with other recreation directors from Jupiter to Boca Raton who said skateboarding seems to be coming back, and they have had no issues.
“They know what the rules are,” he said. “It will be signed properly, and they will be required to wear helmets. That would be the one requirement. All of the other equipment will be highly recommended, but if they don’t [use it], they will be doing it at their own risk. Talking to the kids over the past month, they’re ready to police it themselves.”
Skater Morgan Manning, who is a supervisor at the YMCA skate park in Palm Springs, said movable ramps are the key to a sustaining a skate park.
“When it’s fixed, they will get bored and they’ll want to move on to something else,” Manning said. “What I would propose, and most skateboarders would agree, is mobile ramps where they are fixed, but you hit a latch and it pops up on wheels and the park will always have a continuity to it. There will always be a creative flow where it will never get old.”
Village Manager Ray Liggins suggested discussing a skate park during budget preparation for this year’s five-year capital improvement plan, and council members agreed.