ST. PETE BEACH — A sharp warning and a new surveillance camera seem to have stopped growing vandalism at the city's skateboard park.
"We were serious. It had gotten to a point that we had to do something. We told the skateboarders they were going to lose their skate park," said public services director Steve Hallock.
After warning skaters at a special skateboarding event several weeks ago that they had "one last chance" to improve their behavior, Hallock said, there has been a noticeable effort to keep the park clean.
"There has been a huge difference. My staff is just amazed," Hallock said.
Instead of trash cans tipped over and litter scattered around, the recreation staff is finding the skate park area much cleaner, Hallock said.
The skate park opened in 2001 and was redesigned in 2007 as part of the city's new $8 million recreational complex.
During the past two years, Hallock said, skateboarders destroyed a $5,000 fence, harassed members of wedding parties, painted graffiti on city and nearby residential structures and regularly trashed the complex grounds.
Residents at the adjacent Isles of the Bay condominium also complained that skateboarders trespassed on their property and dangled their feet in the condominium swimming pool.
Hallock said he plans to "beef up" a fence to prevent skateboarders from using the seawall to trespass on the neighboring property.
The park is not supervised, primarily for liability reasons.
The city police department, located just south of the community center complex, recently installed a surveillance camera to monitor the area around the clock from the dispatch desk. The camera feed also can be viewed on computers within the recreation department.
"We can monitor the area 24/7 and it's recorded so we can go back and check the tape if anything happens," Hallock said.
City Commissioner Christopher Leonard also wants the city to encourage skateboarders to wear helmets and pads.
"I am concerned someone is going to get hurt out there. It worries me with some of the stunts we have over there," Leonard said during a recent commission discussion about the park.
Both Hallock and City Manager Mike Bonfield said the park is a "skate at your own risk" facility with signs outlining usage rules under a state law that exempts the city from liability.
"If mom and dad say you are going to wear helmet, it's a lot better than a sign," Hallock said.
Bonfield said although many skateboarders "are very adamant against wearing helmets and pads," statewide statistics show skateboard parks have "far less injuries than soccer or baseball fields."
Tommie Zam, a St. Pete Beach resident and owner of the Finest Skateshop at 6574 Central Ave., has offered to help the city recreation department organize a team of volunteers to paint over graffiti and participate in cleanup projects around the skateboard park.
He says he often stops at the skateboard park after work to pick up trash and urge skateboarders to keep the area clean.
Zam helped organize the recent National Go Skateboarding Day event at the park and warned skateboarders that the city might close the park if the vandalism continues.
"The problems are not caused by just the skateboarders. There are local kids living in the neighborhood and older kids from Clearwater and Largo who don't skate but come to hang out at the park," Zam said.
He said he regularly tells skateboarders they must help "take care of the park" and report anyone they see vandalizing the park.
"Kids don't like to tell on each other, so I've asked them to let me tell the recreation center when something happens. I don't care if I rat out somebody," Zam said.