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Skatepark advocate losing hope


The drive to get a skatepark built in Rochester is probably at its lowest point in the eight years since the push began, organizers say.

The high point was in 2011 when the City of Rochester included the park in its capital improvement plan — that, organizers say, showed commitment to the project. But now, they say, they're not sure what's going to happen.

The park was initially supposed to go underneath the east side of the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge. But that would've required state approval, which might be years in coming, if ever.

The location switched to Genesee Crossroads-Charles Carroll Park located on the west side of the river between Andrews and East Main streets, and supporters believed that the project was essentially a sure thing, says James Maddison, president of Friends of the Roc City Skatepark.

But now they're being told, he says, that a skatepark is just one of the possibilities for the park. The suitability of the location is being studied, Maddison says, and the group should have an answer by August.

"We lost a couple of years," he says. "We could've been making progress on the site under the bridge. The only thing we're going to have at the end of the summer is a yes or a no."

If the answer is no, Maddison says that he'll go back to the group's board and together they'll determine a course of action, which could include abandoning the project or re-focusing on the site underneath the bridge.

Maddison's frustration prompted him to release an 18-page screed (see below) in June, accusing city officials of misleading him and other members of his group. He says he feels as if the group is back to square one — trying to convince city officials that a skatepark is a good idea.

"It's a big thing, and we really believe in the cause," Maddison says. "Right now, it's feeling a little bit like trying to fight with a bag over your head and one hand tied behind your back. I don't understand why the city's treating us like this. We're just a group of volunteers trying to do a good thing."

But city engineer James McIntosh says that the city never promised the group a skatepark. The key component, he says, is to make sure that the community and surrounding businesses and organizations are on board with the project. But there's confusion over whose responsibility it is to rally that support. McIntosh says that he told the Friends that they had to reach out, but Maddison says that it's the city's job, although the Friends would consider helping if asked.

Maddison says the group also needs to know what the city would consider sufficient demand for the project.

The concept is to build what organizers say would be a world-class skatepark to serve as a destination for skaters and an economic-development engine for Rochester. Skateboarding is not illegal in the City of Rochester, but it is restricted.

The study for the original site under the bridge put the cost of the park at more than $4 million.

The Friends group projected it could raise about $500,000 toward the park, but instead managed to raise about $65,000 over the past eight years. Much of the money went to pay for a firm to create designs for the site under the bridge.

Without a location or even certainty that the park will be built, Maddison's report says, it's difficult to solicit large donors. And it's frustrating for the people who have donated over the past eight years, Maddison says, because they don't see a payoff.

"To have it be eight years that we've been trying to get the park, that's a long time," says skater Casey Haley, who also photographs skateboarding as a hobby. "Yes or no. Are they going to do it or are they not? Until we know, I don't think really think it's fair to be taking people's money anymore."

The city is trying to rejuvenate Genesee Crossroads-Charles Carroll Park, says McIntosh, the city engineer. And the city will hold meetings over the summer so people have an opportunity to share what they'd like to see done there.

"If the community and stakeholders believe that a skatepark is a good option, we'll do our best to incorporate it," McIntosh says.

That's not good enough for Maddison, who says that the group is turning its frustration into action. Any money raised from now on will no longer go to the park directly, he says, but to a series of strategic "peaceful and passive" protests designed to get the city's attention.

One such activity: building mini skateparks around the city. They had one started under the Ford Street Bridge, Maddison says, but the city tore it down. They built something at Village Gate in the Neighborhood of the Arts, too, skater Casey Haley says, which the city took down.

The idea is to keep putting up these skateparks, Maddison says, until the city gets tired of tearing them down and builds a "real" facility. The strategy has worked in other cities, he says, such as Porland, Oregon. Burnside Skatepark was built by the skating community without permission and eventually won the city's approval.

"So our plan is we're just going to keep building our own skateparks," Maddison says. "We feel like we're sort of back at square one, trying to convince people that this is something that really needs to happen. Mentally, we're well beyond that."

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