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Downtown St. Petersburg about to become officially friendly to skateboards

Friends Steven Belisle, 24, and Eva Manzo, 20, both of St. Petersburg, skate board home along North Shore Drive NE from North Shore Park in St. Petersburg on Thursday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Friends Steven Belisle, 24, and Eva Manzo, 20, both of St. Petersburg, skate board home along North Shore Drive NE from North Shore Park in St. Petersburg on Thursday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG— Many of the skateboarding enthusiasts who arrive at the Local Longboard Company on Central Avenue are breaking the law.

They arrive via skateboard, which is illegal downtown. But it's so common that co-owner Travis Hise moved a sales rack near the door as a "parking area."

Police officers rarely enforce the decades-old ban that prohibits skateboarding downtown. In fact, one officer, Hise said, told him that he wants to be the first cop on a longboard — a type of skateboard that's usually bigger with wider, sturdier wheels.

On Thursday, the City Council moved one step closer to lifting what has become an archaic law. A city committee unanimously approved a revised ordinance that will allow skateboarders to use downtown sidewalks. The street and bike lanes will remain off-limits, as state law doesn't permit it, said Mark Winn, deputy city attorney.

The proposal also comes with an added safety requirement: Skateboarders younger than 17 would be required to wear a helmet, although Winn said he thought officers would likely just remind young skateboarders to use head protection instead of levying the $213 fine.

Council member Karl Nurse, who proposed the change, said it was the right thing to do. Hise and co-owner Jon Stine's customers will be able to legally ride away on the boards they buy from the store, Nurse said.

Local Longboard's walls are lined with boards, many decorated in designs created by local artists. Since it opened five months ago, business has been excellent, Hise said.

But the awkwardness of a skate shop in the middle of what is legally a no-skate zone doesn't elude him. "It's kind of ironic," he chuckled.

William Harris, president of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Longboard Club, said many USF students use skateboards as transportation.

"A $99 board is a much better investment than a $500 bike, not to mention a car," he said.

Two decades ago, downtown business owners strongly opposed skateboarders. But the downtown business association said earlier this year that it hadn't heard any recent complaints.

Busting skaters downtown isn't high on the list of police priorities. Last year, just two citations were issued.

Harris said police officers have stopped him on his occasional foray through downtown, but only to tell him to get off the street and ride on the sidewalk.

He and the 100 or so members of the skateboarding club are looking forward to the change, even if it is mostly symbolic.

"It will make it a more friendly, inclusive environment," Harris said.

The council could take up the issue as early as Aug. 7.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

Downtown St. Petersburg about to become officially friendly to skateboards 07/31/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 8:50pm]

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