Where’s the best place for the skate plaza?

ames overview ames left side ames right side

skateboarderThe Northfield Skateboard Coalition presented to the City of Northfield Park & Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) last week.

The meeting was blogged here by NDDC’s Ross Currier, blogged here by Union of Youth ED Josh Hinnenkamp, and Suzy Rook wrote about it in this week’s Northfield News: Getting on board: Support grows for a skating plaza in Ames Park.

At last Saturday’s Ward 4 meeting (blogged here), there was some discussion about where to locate the skate plaza: Babcock Park along Hwy 3, Memorial Park adjacent to the swimming pool, or Ames Park downtown. The decision will soon be made by the PRAB.

Sentiment appears to be shifting to Ames Park vs. Memorial. According to the paper,

The coalition lobbied for a spot at Memorial Park, in the open area adjacent to the pool. Vanasek [PRAB chair Rick Vanasek] said Memorial isn’t his first choice. Neighbors, during pool-planning meetings, were promised the rest of the 20-acre site would include trails and open space. Park lighting, they agreed, would be only for security. Ames Park, Vanasek said, is not only accessible, it can be lit for nighttime skating. “It’s an entrance to town. It can be a showcase,” he said.

What are the pros and cons of the three locations?

76 thoughts on “Where’s the best place for the skate plaza?”

  1. It’s too bad that things are unfolding this way, considering that they had all the neighborhood meetings and input regarding the pool location, which was great…

    …and they had a plan for Memorial park that was arrived at somewhat by consensus or at least inclusion….

    But now we’re watching a process that seems to have been guided, to a great extent, but some good ideas from youth (fine, good), and what appears to be a rush-to-judgment process that hasn’t been seeking neighborhood input from those around Memorial Field. Why a heavy push for Memorial before you have a formal process for nearby resident input? Or has that taken place already?

    I spoke with one resident who was active in the pool-at-Memorial discussions and process, and it seems there may be some short-circuiting of the process taking place.

    Straw polls and such are fine, but very unscientific and unrepresentative.

    I’d rather not see blog discussions, straw polls and park administrators have undue influence on a process that should carefully welcome resident input.

    And I also hear that skateboard organizations specifically recommend that skateparks * not * be located in residential areas like Memorial because of noise and other issues. It seems some skaters have paid attention and studied what works and what doesn’t, and they say the parks should be in other sorts of locations (I’m trusting a reliable verbal source on this, but others with more direct information should chime in).

  2. Yikes, was I ever out of the loop! Should have waited till the paper came out….

    What to make of the disconnect between the straw poll and the Park Board decision?

    Did someone rent a bus to transport skateboarders down from the cities to vote in the straw poll? That would be a sh…. thing to do…..

    (Pardon the Griff-parody… I could not resist….)

  3. Here’s the link, Paul: Nfld News: Parks board recommends Ames for a skatepark.

    Ames Park got near-unanimous approval as the preferred choice for a new city skatepark Tuesday, but it will be at least two months before the city council gets to weigh in on the decision. The Parks & Recreation Advisory Board voted 5-1 to recommend the park at the corner of Hwy. 3 and Fifth Street. Board member Dennis Easley voted against the measure.

  4. From Al Roder’s Feb. 15 weekly memo:

    Public Services hosted the Park and Recreation Advisory Board meeting Tuesday night. The main topic of discussion was the selection of a recommended site for the Skate Board Plaza. The PRAB voted 6-1 in favor of recommending Ames Park as the PRAB Preferred site. Staff will be contacting MNDOT on the use limitation issues regarding the MNDOT property/ROW within Ames Park. Staff also has had discussions this week with Malt-O-Meal on the potential impacts on Ames Mill site and staff will be working with the Defeat of Jesse James Committee to address the Ames Park – Carnival site issues. Staff is working on having a discussion with the PRAB next month on these items, prior to taking their recommendation to the City Council. 

  5. I’ve asked this before but haven’t seen an answer. How does the park board reconcile the constant issues with skateboarding through downtown with its decision to place a skateboard park in the middle of downtown, with no restrooms, no bad weather options for teens, no real plan for how flooding will impact the structure and no site plan that shows how all the uses of Ames Park will work together?
    It seems that all the concern last summer and all the pledges to help combat crime and drug use by giving kids a safe and supportive community with positive activities only works when people don’t actually have to do anything. Really, we’re not talking about residents volunteering to actually do anything with kids, we’re just talking about letting them have a place to be kids and play in a neighborhood park.
    In my neighborhood we deal with the noise and parking issues of the soccer fields, but it’s a trade-off for having activities for kids. What’s the point of having parks if they are relegated to bare fields so neighbors are inconvenienced by children actually using them?
    As a compromise, what about the land behind City Hall? Sure, it would need grading, but it has safe access from most of town, lighting and public restrooms at City Hall.

  6. “Approve location” is on tonight’s Council agenda. See the article in Sat. Nfld News and NDDC president Mary Rossing’s commentary on the skatepark titled City Council needs to carefully consider skate park location.

    Before moving ahead with plans to build a skateboard park I believe that we need to look at the whole of downtown, its parks, green spaces, trails and form a comprehensive plan for how we want to develop these unique resources.

    I have my own dreams for Ames Park: A cereal bowl shaped band shell for music performances; ice skating in the winter and moving the depot in to serve as warming house, concession stand, bike and kayak rental, and rest room for the two seasons of skaters. Ames Park should be a real community park and an asset to downtown.

  7. Here’s the text from tonight’s Council meeting packet re: the skatepark, submitted by Joel Walinski, Director of Public Services and Brian Erickson, Public Works Operations Engineer.

    The City Council is being asked to approve Ames Park as the location for the Skateboard Plaza as recommended by the Park and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB). If approved the PRAB will then select a landscape architect consultant to develop an Ames Park Master Plan to best locate and design the skateboard plaza to fit within the landscape and area of Ames Park. Ames Park is located on the northeast corner of the intersection of 5th Street and State Highway 3; it is bordered by Highway 3, 5th Street, and the Cannon River. Ames Mill is located directly north of the park land (attachment #1).

    The current estimated design size of the Skateboard Plaza is 12,000 sq. ft. The proposed design is of concrete construction with urban streetscape items placed within the area. The estimated costs at this time are $180,000 – $240,000. Fund raising efforts are currently underway by the Skateboard Coalition. The Council has also suggested in the past some City funding maybe used for the project. The current City Capital Improvement Plan has a placeholder of $30,000 for the project.

    Summary of Public Process

    The City Council on May 7, 2007 directed the PRAB to work with the Skateboard Coalition to develop a process for selecting a site, design, and cost for a future skateboard plaza area and to include a skateboard plaza within the development of the Park System Master Plan.

    As a follow-up, the PRAB identified the selection of a location for the Skateboard Park/Plaza as a critical element to be completed during the preparation of the Northfield Parks, Open Space and Trail System Plan (System Plan). The three locations that were identified by Brauer & Associates, Ltd. as being potential sites for the Skateboard Park are:

    • Ames Park
    • Babcock Park/Rodeo Grounds
    • Old Memorial Field Park

    In order to involve the public in the selection process an Open House was held on January 17, 2008 so that public input could be received by the PRAB. A consensus of the PRAB, Skateboard Coalition, and other interested members of the community, the Babcock Park/Rodeo Grounds location was removed from consideration because of general location and access. A summation of the comments received at the open house, identified issues from public discussion, as well as several written letters and e-mails received by staff on the two remaining sites were used to develop the discussion points below:

    Ames Park:

    • Lack of parking at Ames Park; however, the Water Street Parking lot is relatively close as is other public downtown parking. Providing a parking area at Ames Park would be nearly impossible due to access limitations and existing MNDOT right of way. Improvements to the pedestrian access on the 5th Street bridge would be beneficial to providing better access. This has previously been discussed as a future project with the Mayor’s Streetscape Taskforce meetings concerning the Water Street/5th Street Project.
    • The impacts of locating the skateboard plaza within in the flood plain currently identified in the park would be minimal. Additional information and discussion would be needed with the Department of Natural Resources.
    • Planned shoreline improvements and increased user activity should reduce the current goose population at Ames Park and thus reduce the impact on the skateboard park.
    • Currently the City of Northfield provides temporary restrooms (port-a-potties) at several locations throughout the City. Providing this amenity as well as trashcans and some decorative fencing could be provided as part of the overall design. The fencing could also serve as a method of reducing the possibility of skateboards being sent into the street.
    • Increased skateboarding activity within the downtown area was identified as a potential issue as skateboarders make their way to Ames Park. This is a potential issue from users residing on the east side. The same issue could be made for placement of the skateboard plaza at Memorial Field Park with users coming from the west side of town. Continued enforcement of City ordinances will be needed independent of the location selected.
    • The central portion of property that was purchased by the City of Northfield from MNDOT does require that this land be continually used as parkland. Staff has talked with MNDOT and received confirmation that the placement of the skateboard plaza on this area does meet with the MNDOT guidelines for parkland. Depending on the exact placement of the skateboard plaza within Ames Park further discussions and negotiations with MNDOT maybe required if the skateboard plaza is placed on MNDOT Highway 3 Right-of-Way.
    • Staff has had discussions with the owners of Ames Mill, Malt-O-Meal, located on the adjacent north border of Ames Park. Malt-O-Meal is concerned with increased pedestrian traffic and unauthorized parking if the skateboard plaza were to be located at Ames Park. Discussions on limiting access include additional fencing at the Ames Mill site, which could be similar to the parking lot edge treatment included in the Streetscape Enhancement Framework Plan.
    • The City and Malt-O-Meal have an understanding for the use of a portion of Ames Park as the staging area for the Dam Project tentatively scheduled for 2009. Depending on the specific location and placement of the skateboard plaza within Ames Park, the development of the plaza could be delayed until after the completion of the Dam project.
    • Ames Park is the current location for several community events, the most significant being the carnival associated with the Defeat of Jesse James Day festival (DJJD). Staff has had several conversations with their representatives and will be attending their monthly meeting in March to continue developing potential alternative sites.
    • The Northfield Economic Development Authority identified some economic benefit from the placement and development of the skateboard plaza in Ames Park.

    Memorial Park:

    • The bathrooms at the pool are designed for the use of pool patrons only. This is due to the fact that there is no exterior access to those facilities and retrofitting them would be cost prohibitive. In addition, due to the design of the building the bathrooms are only available for approximately 6 months of the year because of a lack of heat in the buildings. Issues that would need to be addressed if these facilities would be considered for additional use would be security, increased daily maintenance, and potentially added vandalism.
    • The parking lot could be dual use for both pool and skateboard park; however, during winter months the parking lot is not currently plowed. The parking lot was constructed to allow for its use as future ice rink location if additional funding for maintenance and warming house facilities was made available.
    • Currently the only lighting at the pool is security lighting and additional lighting for the site is not planned. Once the pool is closed and prepared for the winter those security lights will be turned off until the pool is prepared for the next season.
    • The existing Park Master Plan for Old Memorial Field Park adopted by the Council in 2006 does not identify a skateboard plaza within the park area nor was a skateboard plaza included in the potential uses for the site developed through the community input process. A park master plan is not a static vision for future park development. Park master plans must be allowed to change as the various community priorities for recreational opportunities for the community youth and residents are identified and developed over time.
    • Staff did receive a number of letters, petitions, and comments from local area residents on the east side stating their opposition to locating a skateboard plaza at Old Memorial Field Park. The issues identified included additional noise, lighting, reduction in green space, concerns over potential increased vandalism, etc.

    SUBMITTED BY: Joel Walinski, Director of Public Services

    Brian Erickson, Public Works Operations Engineer

  8. What a lost opportunity!
    Memorial is a great spot for a skate park, and the skate park is a great way for teens to become involved with the entire facility and help grow that into a real recreation center for families.
    Neighbors are short-sighted in rejecting this.
    Ames Park has such potential as a public plaza and community garden, creating an area for wedding and prom photos, outdoor receptions and a grand reception area connected to Ames Mill as a future arts or history center. Just think of the opportunities to use that area to link the highway to downtown and create a real gathering spot for the community to complement what is possible in Bridge Square.
    The safety center can be re-used as a place run by local teens as a bike/kayak rental center, along with a concession stand and bike trailhead/visotors center. The lower level could be a new teen center.
    A bandshell and skate park both would fit in separate parts of Riverside Park, creating a chain of public spaces amid the business areas of downtown. A bandshell there would make concerts accessible to the many seniors near Riverside and the skatepark would draw kids downtown without having them skate through it.
    Look at the total impact: a new safety center at Woodley and Hwy. 3, Veterans Park, a skatepark, bandshell, a repurposed old safety center/new visitor center, and Ames Park as a public garden/plaza. Over time, the city will end up with a cohesive string of public pearls. Together, they will link the private business areas and encourage traffic to and through them. Continue this across the highway to the Q block in a Depot-themed business center or a public/private use and you have amazing and cohesive downtown strategy.

  9. Anne,
    I disagree with parts of your assessment. First of all, the decision has not been made, so voice your concern at the council meeting. Second, I think you are overlooking the park boards plan for Memorial field as a community garden with walking paths.

    The other ideas you mentioned can still happen.

    The part I agree with is that a skate plaza location decision should be part of the comprehensive plan for memorial field and Ames park.

    I hope the park board and council have long term plans for Ames, Old Memorial field and Way Park that can be implemented over time. I agree that the items you mentioned are good ideas for the park board and council to consider for the various locations, but I do believe the skate plaza could fit into those plans.

  10. The Council voted 4-3 tonight to “approve Ames Park as the location for the Skateboard Plaza as recommended by the Park and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB).”

    FOR: Lansing, Cashman, Davis, Nelson
    AGAINST: Pokorney, Denison, Vohs

  11. Finally the skateboarders have a location. I am happy and grateful by all the work and time put in by members of the Park Board, City Council, City Staff, and the SkatePark Coalition involving this matter. This has been a grueling process full of what Jim Pokorney called “Politics 101.” The debate by City Council was the best debate I have heard about the location yet (and I have been to a lot of Park Board and City Council meetings involving the matter). It was too bad this important discussion didn’t happen earlier, like 6 months ago – before a major decision was on the line. A big thanks goes to Jim Pokorney who seemed to bring up the most important issue: we can talk all we want about where NOT to put a skatepark, but we should really be focusing the discussion on the best place to put a skatepark, regardless of whether certain special interest groups will get offended. It is too bad that we heard mainly “not here” discussions with the Park Board (some exceptions by certain members). I regret that the Park Advisory Board, in all their numerous meetings, wasn’t able to bring a balanced discussion forth, like seen today at the City Council meeting. Positives about Memorial and negatives of Ames were not touched upon at all by certain members of the Park Board and thus muted the overall discussion. The February Park Board approval of Ames was not surprising. Many members wore their opinions on their sleeves and seemed to have their minds made up and closed off before debates took place. Why debate, when you know which way you are going to vote? Don’t get me wrong. I am excited to deal with these safety issues at Ames efficiently and start building our skatepark. I just wish that earlier Park Board discussions would have consisted of the viability of Ames Park considering the safety issues of speeding traffic and crossing major highways instead of what seemed like a discussion of “it’s not Memorial Park.” The Council meeting today was a real discussion that will help us move on to the next step. Now let’s fix these safety issues by Ames and get digging.

    Will the costs of improving safety by Ames Park be too expensive? Will Riverside Park get thrown back into the picture? Stay tuned and find out.

  12. Jerry,
    No problem, there’s lots of room to disagree. It’s how ideas grow and evolve. I’m just wondering about the priorities for the entire city in these decisions. Is it realistic to be talking about community gardens at Memorial and Way parks, which are mainly neighborhood parks, but not at Ames and Riverside, which are at the heart of the city? Gardens are nice but extremely labor intensive and expensive, so it would seem the city’s priorities would be to do the most central locations first.
    As for the resistance of neighbors at Memorial, after all the talk about kids needing community support, it is sad to think that making room for kids to play in a huge park is too much to ask. It’s sad to think neighbors might be willing to do all the work of tending gardens but not the work of tending to the blooming of our kids.
    And before people say that I’m advocating for an imposition on others, there’s a huge space behind the homes in our neighborhood and I would have been glad to have the park here.

  13. Great comment on last night’s meeting, Josh. I never attended any PRAB meetings on the issue so it’s surprising to hear that their discussions weren’t of wide-ranging nature that you described.

    It was odd to hear so much interest in Riverside Park among the councilors since it hasn’t been on anyone’s radar.

    After listening to Pokorney, I found myself regretting that I didn’t speak at open mic, as I really like the Ames Park location for the skateplaza and I don’t have a ‘special interest’ in it being there nor an aversion to it being at Memorial. I’m thinking now, though, that it might help to have a new blog post here on LG titled something like:

    Making Ames Park a great place for the skate plaza and other community uses.

    Any other suggested titles? 

  14. Josh –

    Perhaps now that our leaders have made a decision, we can all pull together to help with the implementation. Part of that effort could be addressing recently expressed concerns with long discussed ideas.

    One concern about Ames Park seemed to be Highway 3. Going back to the 1997 Ad Hoc Committee Report to the City Council, a group chaired by the late, great Jeff Amerman and peopled by, among others, the late, great Bob Jacobsen, there has long been a call for a traffic signal at 3rd Street. Now is the time to make that investment in safety.

    Another concern has been about the need for “facilities”, drinking water and bathrooms. Coming as a huge surprise, at least to me, one of the top recommendations of the Chamber – NDDC Retail Support Strategies EDA Task Force was for a public restroom in downtown. Now is the time to make that investment in comfort.

    Finally, there is the concern that the skatepark is not part of a comprehensive plan for parks and recreation. Downtown stakeholders have often expressed the belief that the downtown parks are not thought of in the same way as the rest of the community’s parks. Now is the time to make that investment in recreation.

    Thanks for your comments and thanks to all the Skatepark Coalition for their vision and endurance. They have the makings of great politicians or, perhaps even better, successful community builders.

    – Ross

  15. Griff
    Might I suggest “Making a comprehensive plan for recreation downtown”. Let’s discuss what facilities and ammenities we need, and what dreams do we have for these public resources. It will be so important to have a good plan in place before we start digging in order for the skatepark in Ames park to succeed (there are always the nay-sayers waiting to say “I told you so”). I want more than anything to see this park succeed at a vital and vibrant addition to our downtown!

    We all want good things happening in downtown–just don’t quite know what this means or looks like yet. My hope is that the stakeholders can be directly involved in the process from the get-go,not just reacting to a consultant’s plan at an open house. By the way, I think the NDDC would love help facilitate a brain storming community meeting for one of their forums.

  16. The skateoard coalition has met and worked every week for at least two years: They are the stakeholders!

    These kids have had the proverbial patience of JOB, and worked in solid political grassroots fashion to achieve their goal.

    Please, adults, PLEASE… do NOT now say you have to step in and “make it work”. Adults would not do that to another adult organization; don’t think that because its a youth organization it needs to be told what to do.

    It needs SUPPORT, that’s all. It needs concept and fiscal SUPPORT. If it’s not their park, it won’t work, won’t be used.

    Please trust these incredible kids…….they have done an exemplary job from idea, to concept, to design, and through a long political process.

    Reward them with your SUPPORT.

  17. Kiffi
    Perhaps I should clarify what I meant by “stakeholders”. I believe that anyone involved with downtown should take an interest in how our public lands are developed. No, of course we should not interfere in the design of the itself–the kids have done a tremendous job with this already and this is why they have had the success they have–lots of hard work! And I will support their continued efforts with money and concept.

    But just because the skate park is “theirs” it doesn’t mean that Ames park is theirs alone. This is a community space. That is where we can hopefully have some say in making that a workable multi-pupose place for a variety of activities and recreation opportunities. And push for facilities (restrooms, access, parking etc) that will benefit the skate park AND downtown. I’m excited about the possibilities…but we need to talk about what we want the whole two acres to look/feel like. (And the other green spaces in downtown!) I’m trying to look at a bigger picture so we aren’t reacting to a consultant’s plan with no input upfront.

  18. Mary: Please know that my very annoyed sounding post re: stakeholders was not directed to your specific comments. O f course the entire area shhould be looked at as to how the rest of the surrounding amenities will unfold.

    Frankly, i was very annoyed and disgusted after the Monday council meeting where instead of voting on what was presented by the PRAB, the council once again ignored their own Boards/Commissions recommendation and started down a whole new path, to a new location.

    Where have they been the last year and a half? The council ,and staff both express displeasure if a project seems to be at a decision point, and then the public raises questions and a lot of “new” suggestions. Usually when this happens it is because there has not been sufficient info out to the public, or the public input up to that point has been ignored.

    In this case there have been repeated interactions between the Park Board(PRAB) and the Skateboard coalition, and also with the council at worksessions, etc.

    It seems that these kids can expect to have little skateboarders of their own before this council will speak to the issues that have been ongoing for a long while now.If Arnie Nelson hadn’t changed his vote, the whole site selection process would have gone back to the PRAB to start over.

    If the council overturns the vote of a Board or commission, they are now required by law to explain in writing why they did not accept the recommendation. What could they possibly have said? “Sorry, we just weren’t paying attention?”

  19. I agree Kiffi. One of the most frustrating things is serving on a board/commission/committee of any kind, and not having your recommendations listened to. Makes you wonder what the heck you’re doing there, and why you didn’t just stay home with a nice glass of wine instead. I think we may have learned one thing out of the park board’s recommendation, though. It may be important to make sure there is representation from all areas of town on this board–maybe by ward and a couple “at large” members, like the council. If this were the case, the recommendation may have been different (?). Oh well, now I’m psyched about the skatepark and the energy it will bring to downtown.

  20. Good comments Kiffi and Mary. I couple things that I would like to weigh in on (my acidic tongue is coming out). I agree that the City Council members should have come to the Coalition early on in the process if they thought that the old skate park location was a spot that we shouldn’t ignore. The skateboarders would have listened and discussed internally on whether they like it or not (my guess is that it would have been a good third choice, much more likable than Babcock, but if convinced it would expediate the process we would have listened). The only reason Ames was a major part of the discussion was because certain Park Board members (one especially), kept hammering home the idea that Memorial would never happen – that it was a wasted attempt. Initially we listened but disagreed, but after other park board members became very clear in the meetings that they would never even consider Memorial, we changed course and started looking into Ames (this is not a blanket statement – certain PB members did listen). We were right to do so as the 5-1 Park Board meeting indicates. We do like Ames, and are happy with the approval. We just wish the entire process hadn’t been so….ugly and politicized. Often we felt that officials were not looking out for the best interests of the youth (there are some strong exceptions and those people know who they are) and the community. That is disappointing. We expect adults to look out more for other adults and sort of put youth on a back burner, we were just hoping that we were wrong this time. With the Ames location now chosen – this will be a great opportunity for youth and adults to work together for a common goal. I am excited about this prospect and willing to put the past behind me.

  21. Hey Griff – this is a reply to the question about why Northfield doesn’t want something like Renegade Park in Northfield – a for-profit park. I will be brief on the reasons. First – the cost of an indoor park is more expensive than the cost of an outdoor park (both to construct and to upkeep and pay for staff). Second – many of the skateboarders do not have access to the amounts of money that would be required to daily skate a for-profit park. Many of the skateboarders in town do not come from financially well-off families (more so than most sports I would guess). I do understand that Faribault is able to support one but they have a well-known organization (Renegade) as a sponsor and sell boards as well. If some Skate company came to the Northfield Skateboard Coalition with money for a sponsorship, I am sure we would listen. Also, if Northfield did open up an indoor park like Renegade it might very well put both parks out of business. Variety is good. Thirdly – indoor and for-profit parks mean insurance (and helmets and pads). This is part of the reason why indoor parks cost around $7 – $10 per entry (even with regular use discounts it is still a chunk of change). Fourthly, the kids of this town in the Skateboard Coalition are rather keen on the street style of skating and this is not what Renegade or an indoor park represent. There are many other reasons, but these are a few of the ones that stick out in my head at the moment.

    The youth like Renegade park but if we incorporate some old and new style skating, keep it under four feet, and make it permanent (concrete), keep it free, have it outdoors, and keep letting the youth make the decisions on this park, then this will ultimately equal a successful park. The youth skateboarders of this town have spoken, and although they haven’t agreed on everything, they have made their decisions democratically. ALL skateboarders ages 12-20 have an equal voice if they show up to the weekly Skateboard Coalition meetings every Wednesdays 5:00pm @ The Key.

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