Skate plaza in Ames Park: how our Councilors approach the decision

Northfield City Council 2009 Page 29 of the June 1 City Council agenda packet summarizes the history of the skate park location as it relates to Ames Park. On April 29, I emailed each Councilor, asking them if they’d be willing to write up their thoughts about the upcoming vote so that citizens could “know more details about how you’re approaching it, to know more about which of the various pros and cons hold the most validity, to know more about you see the complexities/various shades of gray on the issue.” I’ll attach separate comments for each Councilor who I’ve heard from, and who speaks to the issue during or after the Council meeting. I’ve turned off comments for now until I gather comments from them all.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Betsey Buckheit blogged in detail about this issue yesterday (as well as here, here, here, and here) in a post titled: Even more about skateboards

    I argued for the Council voting on the Park and Recreation Advisory Board recommendation (the second one) to locate the skatepark in Ames Park at our June 1 meeting.  I see the Council’s action – whatever it is – as the beginning, not the end of the road.

    Yes, I’ll be supporting Ames Park as the location for the development of the skatepark.  Here’s why:

    DOWNTOWN: The Comprehensive Plan is clear that downtown is the center of Northfield and we need to ensure that it remains vital and busy.   I interpret this broadly to mean that we need to intensify land use downtown both on Division Street and in the downtown parks.  Skateboards, festivals, concerts, art shows, shoppers, library patrons – I want them all downtown to meet, play and spend money.

    SKATING IS URBAN: Skateboards do not function well on grass, they require pavement.   Locating an essentially urban sport in our most urbanized area makes sense.

    SKATEPARK EXPERTS say successful skateparks have access, visibility, comfort and diversity.   A central location like Ames Park combined with good pedestrian planning, links to the “bike” (but really multi-purpose) trail, improved transit, and in downtown has great access.   Ames Park has the best visibility of any park in Northfield.  Comfort – like places to rest, water fountains and restrooms – would have to be part of the design, though the proximity to downtown means there are many places to go to buy refreshments (spending money in downtown), The Key, and more.  Diversity means there’s other stuff to do besides skating.   Improving Ames Park would provide more reason for other people to visit the park.  Cyclists, skaters and walkers can come and go via the trail system.   Adults dropping off skaters could visit downtown businesses, the library, and more.

    SUPERVISION: Ames Park’s highly visible location  ensures informal supervision for the skatepark from the many eyes of casual observers to local business owners to deliberate spectators.

    HIGH EXPECTATIONS: So far, I’ve only heard about the low expectations for safety and skaters.  We expect safety to be a problem rather than how Ames Park, as an intensely used park, can help Northfield bridge the Highway 3 canyon and improve pedestrian safety in and through downtown.  We expect skaters to be inconsiderate thugs-in-training rather than young people who deserve our support and our mentoring who could rise to meet our expectations.  Why would any kid, with or without a skateboard, want to be a good citizen when it’s so clear that public opinion considers them a bad influence?

    BIG IDEAS FOR THE FUTURE: If we develop a skatepark in Ames Park, there are really cool ways it could be enhanced and expanded in a linear fashion through our downtown chain of parks.  How about  Skateable Art (think about this in conjunction with the multiuse trail)?


    BEHAVIOR: It should be obvious that young people are YOUNG and less experienced.   I remember being young.  In addition to being less creaky in the joints, I remember (1) desperately wanting adult approval AND (2) craving peer acceptance AND (3) wanting to test things out for myself to see where the limits were (and sometimes I wanted all these things at once).   I don’t think that good behavior by young people will come from law enforcement or government, but by all adults who interact with young people acting as  good role models, talking to young people seriously and respectfully, and setting and enforcing reasonable limits.   I want to see skaters having fun downtown and I believe they can LEARN to act appropriately if we teach them.

    SAFETY: I believe this is a red herring.  Streets, cars, skateboards, bicycles and living itself all come with risks.    The safety issues can be addressed through a combination of improving pedestrian access to the park from downtown and across Highway 3 and by teaching our children about safety (continually).

    AESTHETICS: A skatepark just won’t look right in Ames Park which provides the lovely frame for downtown as one drives in from Highway 19.  OK, I’ll concede that the park will look different and would not the same sort of vista.   However, the Northfield skyline with the Central Block, Ames Mill, UCC Church will all still dominate.  The view FROM downtown will be much enhanced with a skatepark, I think.  I want to see the space used and used heavily by more than Canada geese and the DJJD carnival.

    June 1, 2009
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Erica Zweifel wrote via email:

    Here are the major issues for me as I am making my decision.

    1. How does the Skateboard plaza fit into the fabric of the Northfield community as a whole.  This council is committed to taking a systematic approach to decision making, so I am not just looking at each location by itself but rather if we place it in Ames how does that effect Riverside and Babcock, etc.  Another council goal is sustainability, So I will consider if the location lends itself to the long-term success of the park.  Is this the BEST location for the skate park?
    2. Cost.  We do not have the money for a skateboard park at this time.  The park board budget was reduced to help offset the reduction in local government aid that the city receives from the state.  The park board has identified Memorial park as their priority for spending park funds this year.
    3. Constituent concerns.  My constituents have overwhelmingly asked me not to place the skate plaza in Ames park.
    4. Safety.  I live on and represent the West side of town.  My concern with the Ames location is that West side skateboarders will be tempted to cross Hwy 3 at a very dangerous location.  This is an example of an attractive nuisance where you have an attraction which increases traffic (pedestrian or vehicular) in a location that is not designed to handle the increase safely.
    5. Change.  Things change.  Since this discussion started, there is soon to be a pedestrian bridge linking Babcock to Sechlar, a task force is looking at relocating the Safety Center and the financial climate has changed dramatically. 
    June 1, 2009
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Rhonda Pownell wrote via email:

    When I think of Northfield I think of leadership, mentorship, and giving.

    I think the Skateboard park is an excellant opportunity.  I am not convinced yet that Ames is the best location and that having it in Ames would increase its use.  I believe there are safety and accessibility issues.

    However, I am still gathering information on the whole Skateboard park issue.  This includes looking at previous Park Board minutes, gathering citizen input, going to an actual skateboard park, as well as hearing what the other members of the council have to say.

    I believe the Skateboard park is going to happen.  It’s just a matter of where.  And when it does happen I believe it will be a huge success.

    June 1, 2009
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Jim Pokorney wrote via email today:

    I am not in favor of placing the skateboard park in Ames Park.  I have two reasons: difficult access and lack of community.

    First, let me talk about difficult pedestrian and auto access problems I see surrounding the “urban island” we call Ames Park.  Like an island, Ames is somewhat isolated.  It is difficult to safely access by either walking or skateboarding.  Access from the west neighborhoods is directly across highway 3 at an uncontrolled intersection (3rd and 3).  The most direct access from the north neighborhoods is through the Malt O Meal loading docks.  Access from the south neighborhoods is again across a highway 3 intersection (5th and 3).  Access from the east neighborhoods is along the precarious 5th street bridge sidewalk. 

    Along with difficult pedestrian access, automobile access is no better.  There is no public parking onsite and because it adjoins a state highway, no chance to create an access road or even a drop off lane.  In summary, Ames Park has significant pedestrian safety issues and automobile access issues that need to be addressed with significant infrastructure expenditures substantially beyond the cost of the skateboard park.

    My second issue is community, or more specifically, the potential for lack of community in a skateboard park located in Ames Park.  In my view, the goal of public venues is to support the coming together of different communities of people in town. 

    A successful skateboard park location will be one that doesn’t just provide a skateboard surface, but one that connects skateboarders to the rest of the community (other kids, other ages, people with other interests).  It should be a venue that attracts a crowd of onlookers and supports other compatible activities.  The island we call Ames Park is not conducive to many visitors or other compatible activities without substantial infrastructure improvements.  In fact, Ames was promoted by some as a good skateboard venue because there are not many neighbors (except the police department) that will complain about their activities.  Others thought it would be a good site because you could watch the boarders from the east side of the river. 

    These “separate but equal” arguments seem like a recipe for site failure.  Our goal should not be to segregate skateboarders, but to integrate them into the community.  Let’s face it – skateboarders are already “persona non gratis” to many in the community.  Let’s not enforce that message, even unintentionally, by selecting an “island site” that might further isolate skateboarders from the community.  

    June 2, 2009
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Mary Rossing wrote via email today:

    Northfield Skate Park—How did we get here and where do we go now?

    The council’s goals for 2009 include:

    1. Agree on a site for the skate park,  2. Identify a funding strategy, and 3. Find a temporary site. 

    What the council has done so far: 

    In March of 2008 the (former) City Council voted to move ahead with the Park and Rec. Board recommendation of Ames Park as the preferred site with the stipulation that the issues of safe access be solved.  The vote was 4-3.  The three votes against are the three returning council members. 

    The issue came back to the new council at a work session in February of 2009 where we discussed the still nagging concerns over access to Ames Park and on how to proceed.  Out of this discussion it was clear that quite a few councilors were still questioning why other sites had been eliminated, particularly Memorial Park and Riverside Park. 

    Memorial Park was eliminated because the Master Plan for the Park has already been adopted and it does not include a skate park.  It is important that we respect this plan, but the question is out there in many peoples’ minds is whether a plan is a “living document” and what might be modified as community needs change.  The promise to the neighborhood when planning the new pool was that the rest of the park would be developed as open space with walking trails.  It should be noted that Memorial Park was the first choice of the Skateboard Coalition as well as two different consultants.

    At that work session we invited two representatives from the PRAB and the Skateboard Coalition to join us at the table to answer some of our questions.  When the question of Riverside Park came up, the PRAB representatives were not able to explain, to the satisfaction of the Council, the reasons that Riverside Park was passed up as a potential site.  The main reason seemed to be the failure of the previous skate park in that site.  Members of the Coalition clarified to us that the failure was due to factors not associated with the site but rather with the design.  Insurance put requirements on its use that ultimately made it undesirable for the kids.

    The council then asked to PRAB to come back with some clearer positives and negatives of both Ames and Riverside so that some of these nagging questions could be put to rest.  They did this in April and reaffirmed unanimously their recommendation of Ames as the best site, but with a strong message that since this is the “gateway” to our community that the project must be done in its entirety to be affective, making the cost much higher.

    Moving ahead with a vote…or not

    The next step for the Council was to vote on the Ames Park site.  The Council had asked that this be added to our May 11th agenda.  I then had a conversations with the chair and a representative of the PRAB who asked me to delay this vote until priorities could be clarified and funding strategy decisions can been made.  This is a large project that we cannot fund without the buy-in of many stakeholders.

    The PRAB wanted to revisit how a skate park falls in line with their other priorities and council goals.  They expressed concern that the skate park was moved ahead on their list because of pressure from the former council. Both the PRAB and the council recognize that the Park, Open Space and Trail System Plan has other projects ranked ahead of a skate plaza.  This plan needs to be revisited—either to reaffirm or amend.

    I had hoped that the PRAB and the council would come to the table together with a clear public statement about the project.  Because of current financial constraints this unity is particularly important.  Our collective goal is still to make the best decisions on behalf of the entire community with limited resources.  The council’s job is to assure the financial health of the city and must look at every project in the context of our growing budget constraints.  The Parks Improvement Fund will not be getting any additional revenue in the near future so spending must be done with care.

    Making the best decision on behalf of the entire community.

    At the May 18th Work Session, Councilor Denison asked that we revisit the timeline for a decision.  After a discussion, it was decided that we move ahead, as originally intended, with a vote that came before us on June 1st.  The consensus was that the PRAB had given us their recommendation, affirmed it twice and so we should respect this by voting Ames up or down.  This has been done.  Ames will not be the site. 

    The council discussed how to proceed and decided to take on the project of finding a site, working from the top down this time.  We will still have to determine how to use the PRAB at we get into the details of how the plaza fits into the chosen park and how the public input of the process will work.

    Looking ahead

    At our June 8th Work session we will come to the table with our criteria for choosing a site.  I assume that we will then put together a grading grid to rate potential sites for how well they fit the criteria.  It has not been determined yet whether this will be done by a subcommittee of the council or by a task force that pulls includes other stakeholders.  This group may also recommend a funding strategy as per our goals for 2009.  The council has a sense of urgency about finding a site, so this looks to be able to happen in the near future.  Meanwhile we are discussing plans with the coalition for a temporary skate plaza and hope to get this up and running very soon.  Our job is to lay out a clear decision making map and then follow it through to a conclusion.

    June 2, 2009
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    In separate comments here, I’m adding the audio of each Councilor’s statement prior to their skatepark vote last Monday.

    Here’s the audio of how Mayor Mary Rossing introduced the discussion:

    Click play to listen. 33 seconds.

    June 6, 2009
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    Councilor Jon Denison

    Click play to listen. 2 minutes 41 seconds.

    June 6, 2009
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    Councilor Kris Vohs

    Click play to listen. 2 minutes, 7 seconds.

    June 6, 2009
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Councilor Betsey Buckheit

    1 minute, 25 seconds

    June 6, 2009
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    Councilor Erica Zweifel

    1 minute, 42 seconds

    June 6, 2009
  11. Griff Wigley said:

    Councilor Rhonda Pownell

    2 minutes, 15 seconds

    June 6, 2009
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Councilor Jim Pokorney

    3 minutes, 17 seconds

    June 6, 2009
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Mayor Mary Rossing

    2 minutes, 15 seconds

    June 6, 2009
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    This blog post is now ready for Online Open Mic comments.

    • One comment per person. (It’s not meant to be a discussion/conversation. It’s intended to replicate open mic at a City Council meeting. Follow-up comments will be deleted.
    • Civility rules apply.
    • You can also take this straw poll, which primarily prompts you to rate the quality of the Council deliberations as a whole as well as individual Councilors.  Each straw poll question has room for your comments.
    June 8, 2009
  15. Rob Hardy said:

    Memorial Park is in the view of both consultants and many stakeholders the best location for a skateboard park. I agree with that assessment.

    In the discussion on LocallyGrown thus far, two of the major concerns have been with (a) the decision to remove the PRAB from the site selection process, and (b) the decision to remove Memorial Park from consideration as a location for the skatepark.

    In her written comments above (#5), Mayor Rossing says:

    Memorial Park was eliminated because the Master Plan for the Park has already been adopted and it does not include a skate park. It is important that we respect this plan, but the question is out there in many peoples’ minds is whether a plan is a “living document” and what might be modified as community needs change.

    Appendix A of the Park Master Plan, as found on the city website (here), explicitly leaves open the possibility that (a) Memorial Park may be the preferred location for the skatepark, and (b) a separate planning process will make that determination.

    Here’s the relevant text from Appendix A (page A23), emphasis added: “An important side note is that Memorial Park is defined as one of several sites for a new skateboard park. Whether of not that occurs will be determined under a separate planning process which ill include public input. If it is determined that this park is the best suited for a skateboard facility, the current master plan would have to be redesigned to accommodate it.”

    To me, this text, from the Park System Master Plan developed by the PRAB and approved by the old council in November 2008 answers all of the objections raised: the plan for Memorial Park is a “living document,” Memorial Park is still an option for the skatepark, and the council’s action to initiate a “separate planning process” is appropriate.

    June 8, 2009
  16. kiffi summa said:

    Agreed to all points, Rob…
    Then you might ask the next question…
    Which might be : “How did this site drop off everyone’s radar?”

    And then after you get the answer to that question you might ask a rhetorical question: ” Will the Council wade in where Angels fear to tread?”

    And … not an answer, but a guess might be, well (having been at the council meeting last night), not until a July work session at least, and not then unless it comes up with high ratings on the criteria matrix, and then we’ll have to have the discussion about what IS a ‘master park plan’, and can a ‘master park plan’ be amended, and then that would be discussed at a work session, and then enacted (possibly) at a following legislative session… and then what about funding? and is there any money for this? and what dollars are ACTUALLY in the Park fund, and how much will the trails in Memorial Park cost? 100K or 40K?
    Oh, wait a minute, I omitted the public input process on the councilors criteria matrix ratings; where does that fit in? before the funding discussion? and then (after/during the funding discussion) how much of the total cost will the kids have to raise? and will they also have to provide a fund for maintenance for the years to come? why not the council says… it’s only reasonable, the baseball and soccer and hockey associations do… etc., etc., etc.,

    Ask your question, Rob… I’ll be waiting for the answer.

    June 9, 2009
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, just a reminder. This is the Online Open Mic blog post.

    So Rob can’t reply to you here and you can’t add any more comments here as your comment above was ‘your turn’ at the mic.

    If that was not your intent, I’ll delete your comment so you still have a turn here.

    June 9, 2009
  18. Jim Haas said:

    The city (in the form of mayors past and present and some city council persons and some park officials) has said that it wants to build a skate park. Not building one could be seen as a betrayal. But…things have changed. The city is probably not in a financial position to honor that commitment. Saying ‘no’ may be the most prudent and honest (though unpopular) course right now.

    But the city can do a couple of things to help.

    First, repeal the skateboard/bicycle/roller skate ordinance. If people riding on any of these things are causing property damage or disturbing the peace or tresspassing, they can be ticketed for those offenses. Let the skaters skate!

    Second, support and encourage a private business or organization to bring a skate park to Northfield. If there’s really a market, somebody should be willing to step up. Privately-operated skateboad facilities in Faribault and some of the southern Twin Cities suburbs provide the model. The city shouldn’t be in the skatepark business, but it can use all those fancy development tools like TIF and JOB-Z conditional use permits and such to make the proposition attractive to somebody.

    June 15, 2009
  19. Arlen Malecha said:

    Jim –

    Your post made me realize I was only looking at the skate park as being built and paid for by taxpayers and the money raised by the skate park coalition. I never once thought of it as a private venture or the city charging an admission to the skate park much like the pool.

    If there were a charge to get in would the skaters use the skate park as much as if there were not an admission? Would there be vending machines / concession stand and restrooms available? Could there be an outlet for selling / repairing skates & boards on-site?

    Food for thought I guess.

    It would be interesting to hear from the skaters & boarders to see what they would like for ammenities at the park.

    PS – I very much think the skate park should be at Old Memorial Field. Then maybe they could share the rest rooms/ vending machines and not have to duplicate these things.

    June 15, 2009

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