Following a March 25 design meeting for the Seattle Center's long delayed SeaSk8 skatepark, John Merner—the Center's director of productions—approached Ryan Barth, chair of the city's Skateboard Park Advisory Committee, and asked what he'd think of moving the proposed park from the Center's pavilion site to a larger, more family-friendly location in the Fun Forest.
While the Center's sudden generosity was shocking enough, Barth's reaction was even more unexpected: He turned Merner's offer down. "We're not comfortable trying to go down that path," Barth says. "[We've] gone a really long way... to turn back now."
Skaters have been pushed around the Center for more than a year now ["Compromising Positions," Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, Nov 8, 2007]. Last August, the city council finally designated the pavilion space on the south side of KeyArena for the new skatepark and—despite the less than optimal location and incredibly high costs associated with the site—skaters got to work planning the park. Skaters, worried about another long delay or another change of venue, don't want to move again. "We have a great set of designers," Barth says. "We don't think gaining additional square feet is going to make this park go from a C to an A-plus."
So why was the Center suddenly making an offer so late in the process? Simple: The Seattle Center is in trouble. The levy measure to fund the Center's makeover has been pushed back to 2010, and without the money to redevelop, the Center can't replace the pavilion building—used by festivals—when it's demolished to build the skatepark.
It's understandable that the skaters aren't jumping at the offer for fear of losing what they've already got, but the Fun Forest location may actually be better for everyone. According to Seattle Center spokeswoman Deborah Daoust, the Center's big festivals could keep the skatepark closed as many as 51 days during the prime summer months. The Fun Forest site would also give skaters 50 percent more space to work with, and be more accessible on the Center campus.
After repeatedly being screwed by the Center, skaters have gotten politically savvy. Barth didn't leap at the chance for a spot at the Fun Forest because skaters already have the pavilion site—which has been guaranteed by the city council—and the Center's offer could end up being a bait-and-switch to nothing. In fact, according to Daoust, the Center was only "feeling [things] out" with the skaters, and the Fun Forest site hasn't officially been offered. Moving to the Fun Forest could also delay construction for another year, and skaters just aren't willing to wait any longer. "We've already been without this park since December 31, 2006," Barth says. "Every year that we lose, it's a whole crop of young folks who aren't going to be able to use this park."
Seattle Center director Robert Nellams says he would only make an official push for the Fun Forest site "if the skaters backed [the plan] and the council said they'd like to hear more about it." The Fun Forest deal could happen, but the skaters can't go it alone. Nevertheless, Nellams refuses to make the first move. "I'm not a spokesman for the skateboard community," he says.