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Teens petition for skate park

Thursday, October 11, 2007

City, chamber say they lack funds to revive the project for '08

"I have lived in Storm Lake for my entire life, and they have been promising us a skatepark for quite some time now. It's time to get it started," says Sean Wetherell, one of the 104 people as of yesterday who had signed an online petition demanding a skate park in Storm Lake.

A group called "Kids of Storm Lake Iowa" plans to gather 300 signatures calling for a project to be built in 2008, and then approach the Storm Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Many of the petitioners complained that a skateboard park had been announced as an original part of Project AWAYSIS, but was later sidetracked as a related but unfunded project for some unspecified time in the future.

"We as skateboarders, bike riders and roller bladers have had no place to ride or hang out in Storm Lake," the petition reads.

They say that they can get into trouble with the law if they try to ride on sidewalks or private property, and risk getting hit by traffic if they resort to the streets. Driving 45 miles to the nearest park in Spencer often isn't possible.

When the young people approach community officials, they may find a receptive ear, but an empty pocket.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Gary Lalone says his organization, identified as the target for the petition, has no control over whether a skatepark will or will not be built. "We can sit down with them and see what they are looking at, though. We were very much in favor of the original Project AWAYSIS concept, which did include a skate park," Lalone said. "It is still out there as one of the pieces of the plan still possible to be done."

The small park area behind the police station was one possible site examined when an AWAYSIS committee began to plan a skate park for AWAYSIS a couple of years ago.

"There were other locations looked at as well, and the committee went as far as investigating some grants and a foundation apparently operated by (skateboard champion) Tony Hawk," Lalone said.

While Lalone said the chamber doesn't have the funding or the power to approve such a development in the city, Lalone was not unhappy to hear of the petition.

"For the kids to get concerned and involved is a great thing," he said. "And any time you have people get excited and enthused about a project, there is a better chance that the project may get realized."

City officials, who would have a final say if a skatepark were built, had not been aware of the petition, but are not opposed to the idea.

"A skate park is still out there as a project we would like to do, but we have to get the components of Project AWAYSIS that were a part of the Vision Iowa agreement done first," City Administrator Patti Moore said of the obligations the city is under to develop the project that received $9 million in state funding.

"We still have a lot on our plate, such as the expansion of the campground and building the tourist cabins. It will take at least a couple of years of sales tax revenue to do that, and that may be the best option to cover the cost of something like a skate park," Moore said.

The skate park, along with a nature interpretive center at Little Storm Lake and a proposed effort to create a better connection between the downtown business area and the emerging lakefront AWAYSIS district are all still viable projects - still classified as "related" projects to AWAYSIS - but cannot be funded by the city for at least a few years, she said.

Asking for the park to be built in 2008 might be difficult, Moore notes.

"We don't even have a design, or an exact location. All we had at the time AWAYSIS was being planned were a few conceptual drawings. It would take some time."

She said that Spencer has had a good response to their skate park, and Carroll has just built one, so Storm Lake city officials are aware that there is some demand for such a facility.

If the young people doing the petitioning could help raise the money for the project, it might be possible to realize construction sooner, Moore said.

Petitioners make it clear that they are not planning to wait for years.

"My grandkids all skate, so I believe that they need a place to go. How about 'til the park is built, the city appoints a place for them to skate at - that they won't get into trouble for being there and get hassled by the police all the time," Jackie Peters wrote as she joined the petition.

"I strongly agree that the kids need a place to skate, everyone is always yelling at them - so give them a place so that everyone is happy," Angie Dirks agreed.

"Anytime you build a skate park it helps in many ways. It keeps kids fit, as we know America is one of the most overweight countries. It keeps them off the streets, it's good for the local economies," writes Jesse Wendt, an Indiana resident who had heard about the local petition.

"We have been promised again and again that we would have a skate park. It was in the plans for AWAYSIS, and then taken out. Some of the reason AWAYSIS was approved was because of the skate park," added Logan Bigley.

According to the Project AWAYSIS web site, the plan called for a 15,000 square feet in-ground, concrete skate park with features such as stairs, ledges, rails, contoured bowls and sloped banks. "The timelines for this project are undetermined at this point, however a plan has been developed to complete it in the future," the site indicated.

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