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Sarasota group looks to expand skate parks countywide

City commissioners heard from Skate City SRQ about the shortage of parks for riders of all sorts of wheels from skateboards to wheelchairs.

A young rider catches air on a scooter at Payne Skatepark.
A young rider catches air on a scooter at Payne Skatepark.
Photo by Andrew Warfield
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Based on the national average of skateboarders per capita, there are roughly 1,400 skaters among the 56,000 citizens of Sarasota. With only one skatepark in the city, leaders of Skate City SRQ say that's not nearly enough to serve the skating public.

That skatepark, located in Payne Park, is routinely filled. Additionally, its facilities are designed primarily for two-wheeled conveyances. 

In an early step to help remedy that, representatives of the nonprofit Skate City SRQ made a presentation at the Oct. 2 Sarasota City Commission meeting, seeking whatever help the city can provide to site and build an “all-wheel” park and smaller facilities within neighborhood parks in order to spread out accessibility throughout the city.

The organization’s goal is to add 10 new skate parks countywide.

“The problem we have today is Payne Park is too crowded,” said professional skateboarder and Olympian Jake Ilardi, founder of Skate City SRQ. “Sometimes on Fridays and Saturdays there are over 100 kids there and you can't even skate in a straight line. It's a good problem to have. It's the only skatepark in the city. It's not only serving the kids in the city, but also kids in the county.”

More than skateboarders, Skate City SRQ has a goal of creating a park that can accommodate all sorts of people-powered wheels.

“We want to create an all-inclusive, all-wheel plaza,” Ilardi said. “We want bikes, scooters, inline rollerblades, quads, wheelchairs. We want everyone there.”

Payne Skatepark is the only facility of its kind in Sarasota.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, who placed the presentation on the agenda, agreed that the city has fallen behind in providing facilities for skaters.

“I'm no newbie to the skate world. I have two boys and one of them really likes to skate a lot, so it's been in my world for a very long time,” she said. “I remember when (Payne Skatepark) was created 20 years ago, and part of the discussion was that skating is on the rise and it's not going to go away as a sport. The discussion was if you don't foster and create a place in your city for this up-and-coming sport — again this was 20 years ago — then the entire city will be an unsafe place for kids to skate.”

Skate City SRQ doesn’t have a site for an all-wheel park — but it does have some ideas — nor does it currently have a funding mechanism to pay for new facilities. Its purpose for the presentation was to bring attention to its mission and ask the city to consider providing some assistance in identifying locations in current parks, and maybe some consideration for future special appropriations.

The organization is working to raise funds through events and some local business partnerships.

“We've done our own site selection and inventory and we've also looked at the city's CIP for the parks. We know which parks you are going to be enhancing in the next few years and we'd love to get involved in that process and dovetail in on maybe something in Newtown or somewhere a little farther out east,” said Joey O’Mahoney. “There’s no shortage of good places. It's really just about consensus and doing everything properly and above board.”

The presenters did single out Robert L. Taylor Community Complex as one location with the land and the location that is accessible to the entire city, including the north Sarasota communities.

Although no commission action is requested at this time, City Manager Marlon Brown said discussions between staff and Skate City SRQ representatives will be scheduled, and that some action request may eventually come before the commission.

“Skate City needs to get involved with staff because I am hearing a lot of discussion back and forth that we have not necessarily been involved in, and to kind of flesh that out and then make a determination as to where to start before we bring something back for some direction,” Brown said, adding the city will have to decide whether to invest in the effort.”We need to hear the ideas on locations and get with staff determine if it's appropriate. There's a lot more work to be done.”

Ahearn-Koch indicated she is prepared to begin that work.

“What I don't want to do is have this discussion again in a year and say, ‘well, we dropped the ball,'" she said.



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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