The operations at Payne Skate Park are barely skating by, according to its management.
The city-owned park, which has seen a decline in attendance in the past few years, is managed by the nonprofit Sk8skool. Mike Walling, of Sk8skool, created a fundly.com site in September to help the park collect $5,000 (the website incorrectly says $10,000) for the annual insurance necessary to keep the park open. At press time, the site had collected $435.
If the park, which opened in 2003, doesn’t receive at least $2,500 by Nov. 18 to make a down payment on the insurance, the park will be forced to close, Walling said. One of the factors that has contributed to the decline in skaters is the opening of the Bradenton Riverwalk Skatepark, which is free, in October 2012. The daily rate to use Payne Skate Park is $5 for skateboards, $6 for bikes, $8 for scooters or $50 for a six-month pass.
“The biggest expense is insurance — we can’t cut it down; it is what it is,” Walling said. “If we can’t pay our insurance premium, the [skate] park will shut down.”
One option Walling would like to revisit with the city is reducing the monthly concession license fee for either six months or a year. Walling said that this would make insurance payments affordable. General Manager for Bobby Jones Golf Club Susan Martin said the city of Sarasota is willing to revisit the monthly concession license fee for the skate park.
Sk8skool also struggled to meet the insurance payment deadline in 2013. In response, the city lowered the monthly fee from $1,200 a month to $300 a month for three months before increasing it to $600 a month for the remainder of the five-year agreement.
Before Sk8skool started managing the park’s operations in 2010, the city of Sarasota spent $250,000 a year to run and maintain the park. It was Walling and Sk8skool founder Dan Giguere, who died in 2013, who approached the city about helping manage the skate park. Martin estimates that by Sk8skool managing the park the city saves less than $200,000 a year because the city still pays for utilities for the park and will be investing in some maintenance projects. Currently, the city is planning on upgrading the restrooms inside the skate park and the water fountain.
Martin said the city would like to work with Sk8skool toward a solution to keep it in charge of managing operations.
“It has been great working with Sk8school,” Martin said. “I think it can be a win-win, we just need to find that balance. If they can get this fundraising going, I think it can work out.”
Charlie Soechtig and his son, Hunter, volunteered last weekend to help clean up the park and make repairs. Soechtig donated his time and $125 in paint to improve the appearance of the some of the ramps. He pays for his Hunter’s $50 six-month pass for unlimited skating and would like to see the city make more improvements to match the rest of the surrounding Payne Park.
“This is a premier park,” Soechtig said. “I would love for the city to say, ‘Let’s put awnings in for shade.’ It’s tough as a parent watching your kid in the sun.”
The nearest alternative public skate park is the Bradenton Riverwalk Skatepark, which is free and open 24 hours, seven days a week. However, Riverwalk is a skate-at-your-own-risk park and doesn’t require a waiver to skate. Payne Skate Park operates seven days a week: 2 to 10 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the weekends.
Resident Kim Klaasse decided recently to bring her son to Payne Skate Park and was surprised to hear that the skate park was struggling to stay open. Klaasse lives closer to the Bradenton Riverwalk Skatepark but said she has seen verbal fights break out between skaters.
“He likes this skate park better because there is a lot more variety,” Klaasse said. “I prefer this park because I would rather have supervision, even if I have to pay; to me it’s worth it. It just seems a little safer to me.”
Jake Ilardi has been skating at Payne Park for eight years; he says he has practically grown up at the park. He prefers the park because it’s a community for the skaters who frequent it. As a 17-year-old without a car, the Riverwalk Park is too far.
“It just needs to stay open,” Ilardi said. “I skate here from school, and it feels safer than Riverwalk.”
180 Skate is hosting a Halloween Bowl Bash skateboarding competition and event from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, at Payne Skate Park. The cost to enter is $10, with proceeds going toward the skate park. For more information, call 953-7508.