Newark becomes a destination for skatersFeb 16, 2015 10:11AM ● By Kerigan Butt
Skaters of all ages have embraced the new skate spot.
By John Chambless
The sound of wheels on concrete has been a constant at Handloff Park since the completion of the Newark skate spot there in August. A September ribbon cutting officially opened the facility, but skaters from throughout Newark and beyond had already been using the site every day.
With the Handloff Park opening, and an October opening of another skate spot in Phillips Park, skaters have finally been welcomed into a community that has driven them away for decades.
Charlie Emerson, the director of parks and recreation, opened the ceremony on Sept. 12. "This has been a long time coming, and we're all really excited about it," he said. "This was a true partnership, getting skaters involved in the actual design of these facilities. I didn't know a thing about skate spots before, and I needed people who skate to provide me with information."
The Handloff Park site on Barskdale Road was the result of years of planning, and a large financial commitment by several stakeholders. There were plans in 2010 to build a larger skate park as part of the Curtis Mill Park project on Paper Mill Road, but it was decided that placing smaller spots closer to the city's trails and neighborhoods made more sense.
"I was approached by an anonymous individual who want to make a donation of $40,000 for this project," Emerson said. "But they wanted the city to match that. I submitted it, and it got approved. In addition to that $80,000, we were able to get a donation from the University of Delaware for $10,000. Switch, the skateboard business on Main Street, donated $5,200. The Wilmington Skate Project made a donation of $3,000. There were two local skateboarders -- Eddie McKay and Matt Wilson -- who did a fundraiser at Mojo's and contributed $1,650. And the thing that really made this happen was a grant that we wrote to the Delaware Land and Water Conservation Trust Fund, a matching grant for $85,000. That put us where we needed to be."
Grindline Skate Parks of Seattle was the design and build contractor for the skate spots, based on recommendations from the people who would be using them. The total cost of the project was $180,000, but the payoff will last for generations.
"I'm happy that we are finally able to offer a safe, well-designed location for skateboarders to skate," Emerson said. "In all the years past in Newark, skaters have been run off from every place, because it's not legal to skate. Now we have a place for you. We did this for you. Here it is," Emerson said as the crowd applauded.
Carol Houck, the city manager for Newark, recalled that, "23 years ago, when I started in the Parks Department, we got calls all the time asking why we didn't have a place for skateboarders. We were concerned about insurance and all kinds of things. I'm sorry it took us so long. I'm sorry we didn't embrace your sport as soon as we should have. But in the long run, the outcome is much more professional. ... We finally have it. Enjoy it, try to get younger children involved, and take care of it."
Mark Morehead, a District 1 City Council member, said that "Charlie Emerson made believers out of us. There were concerns in the neighborhoods about excess noise and graffiti and all those things that you guys sometimes get a bad rap for. I want you all to know that you've lived up to our hopes and surpassed them.
"The park has been cleaner with you all here," Morehead said. "I've gotten zero complaints from the neighbors. When I've driven past and stopped, it gives you true faith in our future to see you guys skating around, taking turns, giving each other encouragement."
Jerry Clifton, a District 2 City Council member, told the crowd, "This is one of the best collaborative efforts in my 17 years on the council. I think everybody is to be commended. Back when I was 12 or 13 years old, we used to call it 'sidewalk surfing.' We took roller skates, separated them and put them on a board. I used to do it, and I know how unsafe that was. I'm thrilled to be here in a great environment that I never could have imagined five or six years ago."
Jamie Magee, a member of the Skate Spot Committee, praised how the park "will get youth involved in recreation. This is something really lasting, really valuable. We learned a lot about what's important in a skate spot. What you're looking at is really a high-end product."
Emerson added that, during the research process for the skate spots, "Joe Spadafino and I visited six similar facilities in Maryland, and I can say that this is the best I've seen."
Vance Funk, who was closing out his years as Mayor at the September event, recalled how the city management always worried about having insurance for skate parks. "Then, all of a sudden, we got new management, and they had enough common sense to call the insurance agent. The agent said that you're more likely to get hurt playing basketball in the park than you are in this skate spot. It came alive because a lot of people believed in the project and were willing to put up their money."
The Handloff Park spot is 2,800 square feet, and the Phillips Park site is about 2,500 square feet. They have different features, so skaters can enjoy a variety of stairs, hand rails, grind rails, ledges, and quarter pipes.
"I grew up in the city of Newark, and I regularly walk and bike the UD campus and downtown area," said skate spot committee member Magee. "I've seen a growing population of skateboarders that needs a safe, legal, and challenging place to practice their sport other than the public walkways. The Newark skate spots project seemed like a great way to repurpose underutilized park space to solve this problem. Serving on the committee gave me the opportunity to help ensure the community's objectives were met in a lasting way, and of which the city can be proud."
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail [email protected].