ST. PETERSBURG — With Tampa's famed Bro Bowl now history, St. Petersburg is aiming to become the region's skating destination by building a 32,000-square-foot skate park across Interstate 175 from Tropicana Field.
The City Council recently approved $1.6 million in Weeki Wachee Fund money, earmarked for parks and recreation uses. Parks officials hope to have a state-of-the-art facility open by winter 2016 in Campbell Park.
For council member Karl Nurse, the park represents a generational shift.
"We will have succeeded in St. Pete when our children and grandchildren stay here rather than getting out of school and moving to another city," Nurse said. "This is the kind of thing that puts out the welcome mat."
For Nick Nicks, founding member of the St. Pete Skatepark Alliance, which pushed unsuccessfully for a waterfront skate park, the city's move is a big shift from the days when he was ticketed for riding his board on downtown sidewalks, forcing him to pay a fine before he could retrieve it from the bowels of the Police Department headquarters.
"This is the trend. It's just like the city building a baseball diamond or a basketball court," said Nicks, 40, who grew up skating at the Bro Bowl when he wasn't being chased out of St. Petersburg shopping center parking lots by irate business owners and police officers.
Nurse was pivotal in advancing the project. Nicks said they realized skaters had an ally on council when Nurse pushed for lifting the ban on sidewalk skateboarding downtown last year.
When the city was crafting its waterfront master plan last year, Nicks and other alliance members pushed for a park on the water's edge. But that idea didn't gain much traction. Eventually, a compromise emerged among city officials and council members: give up the waterfront dream and we'll find you a centrally located spot.
Cue Campbell Park. A large park at 16th Street and Fifth Avenue S, it has restrooms, a large parking lot and easy interstate access.
Most important? A hill that makes Nicks and other skaters shiver in anticipation of the possibilities.
The design of the park is still a work in progress, but Parks and Recreation director Michael Jefferis is confident skaters will be happy.
"I don't know how many bowls yet or how many jumps, but the topography of that location will just enhance the interest of that location," Jefferis said.
Other nearby cities have impressive skate parks: Lakeland and Bradenton, especially.
But Nicks thinks, if it's done right, St. Petersburg might be able to compete for national and international competitions. That's the city's hope, too.
"We may get some TV, but at the very least we should get some events that fill up nearby hotels," Nurse said.
Contact Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.