A new skate park for Burlington

It may not host the X Games anytime soon, but city officials said they believe BurlingtonÕs new skate park will be the biggest in New England.

With the current skate park deteriorating over time, a community vote in 2008 showed widespread support for replacing it. Since then, years of debate, design charettes, campaigning events and public open forums have contributed to making the new skate park a reality by next fall at the earliest.

ÒAfter about 10 years out in Vermont winters, you can start to see the wear and tear. It was always the intention for them to transition to a concrete park, which would have longevity and durability,Ó Special Projects Manager for the Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) Kirsten Merriman Shapiro said.

A modern, concrete skate park will replace the existing Lake Street park Ñ built in 1999, and made mostly of wood and metalÑ which has begun to break down, exciting a local skateboard community that has been

pushing for a new park since 2006.

Seattle-based Grindline Skateparks designed the new 20,000 square-foot park, which will feature a Vermont-shaped manual pad, bowls ranging from four to 12 feet deep and the second glass wall-ride in the country, she said.

ÒConsciously in this design we have elements skaters will enjoy no matter how skilled they are,Ó Merriman Shapiro said

As for the Vermont=shaped manual pad?

ÒWe wanted to have some things that felt Vermont-ey within it,Ó she said.

The skate park will be a part of a larger waterfront development project known as the Waterfront North Project. Burlington voters approved $6 million in funding for the project by a three-to-one margin last November, according to Seven Days.

Part of that money will go to the new skate park, which CEDO estimates will cost anywhere between $400,000 and $900,000. A combination of grants and fundraising events will round out the funding, Merriman Shapiro said.

Local skaters continue to utilize the existing park, despite the removal of many its features and continual need of repair, local skater and UVM alumnus Gavin Wynkoop-Fischer said.

ÒAt this point about half of the original skate-able structures have been removed, the existing ramps have been repainted and repaired multiple times and are still fairly sketchy despite that,Ó he said.

Though its condition has vastly deteriorated, the local skate community holds a nostalgic view of the old park because it has Òbeen central to the Burlington skate scene for more than a decade,Ó Wynkoop-Fischer said.

He is aware of plans for a new skate park, and believes Mayor Weinberger could finally Òbe the real deal.Ó Yet local skaters remain wary, he said.

ÒI think people are wary since the cause for a new skate park is an old one and so far the city hasnÕt come through for us yet,Ó Wynkoop-Fischer said.

Involved in the push for a new park from the outset, the married Maven skate shop owners Brendan Foster and Trina Zide believe the new park will put Burlington on the skateboard map.

ÒItÕs going to be quite substantial, especially compared to skate parks in New England in general. Connecticut is the closest state that has anything comparable to what weÕre building. This is definitely going to be the biggest in New England,Ó Foster said.

For Foster, the new park simply makes sense given BurlingtonÕs reputation for outdoor activities.

ÒI think a lot of it has to do with our community. People that live in Burlington live here for a reason. We have our mountains, our resorts. We also need our summertime activities,Ó he said. ÒItÕs something to do. Not everyone likes mountain biking, not everyone wants to hike all the time. I think thatÕs been lacking in this town for awhile.Ó

Foster also thinks people will travel to Burlington just to use the park, or attend large skateboarding events made possible by the improved design.

ÒWe talked a lot about making it inviting and the kind of places families would want to visit,Ó Foster said. ÒWe want a really friendly, scenic world-class skate park. We might not get the X Games, but itÕs going to be good enough to host.Ó

Finalizing a plan to construct a new skate park did not happen without a few snags along the way.

ÒThere was a bit of a backlash from a group of residents on the waterfront who seemed to believe that a new skate park would somehow greatly decrease their quality of life or maybe just [their] property value,Ó Wynkoop-Fischer said. ÒI believe [they] organized under the name ÔFriends of the Waterfront.ÕÓ

Thread magazine reported last spring that Friends of the Waterfront had been contacted by Lake Street resident Alison Lockwood, who complained, Òthe whole project smells like rotten fish.Ó

Part of LockwoodÕs frustration stems, according to the same Thread article, from the (at the time) proposed and now finalized plan to use Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to pay for a portion of the skate park.

ÒWhen the city asked for those funds, it was like asking for a blank check,Ó Lockwood said in an interview with Thread.

TIF is a system of financing that allows the city to borrow money to improve public infrastructure in a given area. The understanding is that those improvements will generate greater tax revenue from raised property values and private development, paying off the borrowed sum.

In 2011, Lockwood wrote the Vermont Natural Resources Board (NRB), challenging the skate park development on the grounds that it required an Act 250 permit amendment, District 4 Coordinator Peter Keibel stated in his written jurisdictional opinion.

An Act 250 permit Òprovides a public, quasi-judicial process for and managing the environmental, social, and fiscal consequences of major subdivisions and developments in Vermont,Ó the State of Vermont website stated.

Ruling in favor of a permit amendment, Keibel made it necessary for Mayor Weinberger to appeal the decision to a higher court, KeibelÕs written opinion stated.

Seven months later, the Vermont Superior Court Environmental Division overturned KeibelÕs decision deeming the permit amendment unnecessary, a press release from Mayor WeinbergerÕs office stated.

ÒThis settlement is good news for the CityÕs residents and visitors who enjoy BurlingtonÕs waterfront area,Ó Mayor Weinberger said.

Voters finalized the construction of the new skate park when they approved funding for the Waterfront North Project in the November 2012 general elections by a three-to-one margin.

Now, Merriman Shapiro and Foster are hoping the skate parkÑ which is currently up for

bidding contractsÑ will be underway this fall, despite the lengthy zoning and

regulation process.

ÒThe mayorÕs very committed to seeing this happen,Ó Merriman Shapiro said.