Waynesville leaders have committed to foot the bill for the long-held dream of a skateboard park — and it will receive help from an unexpected place.
After years of pinning their hopes on grants and private fundraising that only partially materialized, town leaders have now decided they must move forward with the construction of a public skate park or kill the idea all together. The town board discussed what to do about the skate park at a daylong annual planning session last week. And, fortunately for local skateboarders, the town has said it will fund the project no matter what.
“I sort of like the idea of being able to hang our hat on (the skate park investment),” said Alderman Wells Greeley. “We are going to have parents who will bring their kids over to Waynesville for the day. This falls in the category of what I call good growth.”
Alderman Gary Caldwell has been advocating for a skateboard park for 15 years and was the most vocal board member when discussing the skate park last week.
“I know I am asking a lot,” Caldwell said. But, Caldwell said he wouldn’t stop lobbying for it.
“It’s not a dying issue,” he said.
Plans for the park continually stalled during the past decade as the town struggled to find financing for the project.
“I think it’s something that has been wavering too long,” said Alderwoman Julia Freeman.
Freeman said the town should support projects that benefit kids and get them active.
That’s exactly what the town did in 2010, when it put up $30,000 to hire a consultant to design a skate park in collaboration with ideas from local skateboarders.
The price tag to build a skate park was pegged at $325,000. The town has amassed almost $137,000 toward the cost: a $60,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Rec Trust Fund, a $20,000 grant from the Waynesville Kiwanis Club and another $40,000 committed by the town itself.
With blueprints for a skate park in hand, the town hoped it would kick-start fundraising, but only $5,000 in private donations has been raised in the past year.
That leaves the town $190,000 short to fund the project.
If the town continues to postpone the project, the cost will inevitably increase with inflation.
“The longer the delay, the higher the price — for the same thing,” said Alderman LeRoy Robinson.
A facilitator from the Southwestern Commission who was running the town’s planning meeting tossed out the idea of scaling back the project and thereby reducing the cost. But, town board members did not seem receptive to that idea.
“If you scale it back, you are going to reduce the challenge, and that is part of the draw of something like this,” Robinson said. “If they don’t feel it is a challenge, they will be back on the street.”
Skateboarding on town sidewalks and most streets is illegal, and violators could be fined $50 or, even worse, have their board taken away. But, that doesn’t mean kids aren’t doing so when no one is watching.
“That has been a major issue,” Caldwell said. “It’s a nuisance.”
The park will give those kids a free place within walking distance of downtown to skateboard legally.
The design for the skate park, developed by Spohn Ranch Skateparks from California, includes bleachers for spectators, at least four ramps and a raised platform with rails, among other features.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been trying to do this forever and ever, but I never envisioned it to look like this. This is amazing,” Caldwell said.
Although the town is building the skate park, it will not staff it, limiting its liability in the event of an accident. Once the park is complete, the town could host competitions there, which would draw visitors and their checkbooks.
As luck would have it, money materializes
As the Waynesville town board grappled with where it would find $190,000 to fund the remaining balance of a skateboard park, it realized somewhat accidentally it was staring a new source of revenue in the face.
At the same meeting where the skate park was discussed last week, the town also took up the issue of whether to start charging fees for controversial sweepstakes machines as several other towns in the region do.
The board agreed in an epiphany moment that recreation would be an appropriate use the new income.
It would likely not be enough to fund all that is needed, however. Maggie Valley and Canton currently tax the sweepstakes machines in their respective towns. Maggie collects $8,250 a year, while Canton rakes in nearly $32,000 each year.