SPRING HILL — For nearly six years, Amber Costa has been a constant at Stewy's Skate Park, the mecca for skaters in Hernando County that also serves as a lasting memorial to her son.
Costa has opened and closed the park at 6799 Pinehurst Drive and operated the small concession stand, plowing any proceeds back into the park named after her son, Stewy Abramowicz.
Stewy died at age 12 when he was struck by a car and killed while riding a scooter in 2001.
Hernando County Parks and Recreation is about to put the concession stand business out to bid, a move that strikes Costa as a slap in the face.
"I do feel like I'm being forced out a bit," said Costa, whose lease expires in July.
Not so, Pat Fagan, the director of Hernando County Parks and Recreation, said Wednesday.
"This is nothing against Ms. Costa,'' he said. "It's department policy that when interest is shown from other people to bid, then we put it out to bid. We're looking for the best person for the job out there.''
Costa said she always has run the concession stand because there has never been any interest from anyone else. Fagan says the stand has been out to bid once before, and Costa last won the one-year bid that comes with a two-year renewal.
"If someone bids on the contract, it could essentially save the county money,'' Fagan continued. "The park was built, it had a plaque put up for her son's honor — it's a county park. She has the right to bid, too, and in the end, she can always win the bid again."
"I'm going to make a bid, of course, I am,'' Costa said.
"That's my park. That's my son's memorial on that park. That's my son's heart in that park. I'll make sure no one else gets it."
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Stewy was a driving force to get a skate park in the county. He went out and got signatures on petitions, but tragedy struck before he could realize his dream.
Costa and former County Commissioner Diane Rowden picked up the effort after that, getting more signatures and designs from skaters on what the park should look like.
The park would cost about $250,000, and the county told the advocates that if they raised half, the county would match it. They did, and Stewy's Skate Park opened in 2003.
Costa and Rowden both say they were told that Costa could run the concession stand as long as she wanted to. She is paid $300 a month to run the concessions and open and close the park, which is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
Fagan said no guarantee was ever made.
He said that at least three people have shown interest in making a bid for the concession, including Bob Martini, whose 17-year-old son, Billy Long, used to run Sand Storm Skate Shop in Spring Hill.
Martini, however, said Wednesday that he is no longer interested in taking over the stand.
"I personally have no intention on putting a bid on Stewy's Skate Park," Martini said. "I have no further comment than that."
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Rowden said she knows the dedication Costa puts into the park.
"If it were not for Amber Costa," she said, "(Stewy's) would not be the success that it is today. Amber gives help and guidance to some of those kids that come there."
Costa points out that she supervises the teen skaters, some of whom view her as a motherly figure. Many come back to visit her after they get older and move away. She is even been invited to weddings of former skaters.
As nice as that is, Fagan notes, it is not part of the job description.
Fagan acknowledges that Costa might have a sense of entitlement because of the time and effort she has put in the park to get it built and keep it safe, and because Stewy's name is on it.
"We're not chastising her," Fagan said.
But Fagan admits the staff at parks and recreation has butted heads with Costa many times.
For example, there have been events held at the skate park in violation of Hernando County policy that requires people to sign insurance waivers. It is a policy Fagan said that Costa has been told "many, many, many, many times" to follow.
Costa said, "Pat Fagan likes to exaggerate everything. Everything I do, I do for the kids out there."
The County Commission will decide who gets the concession contract, Fagan said, noting that his staff will make a recommendation to the board.
As for any feud between Costa and Martini, that's irrelevant to parks and recreation.
"This is not a game we're playing," Fagan said. "They have something personal going on and they need to deal with that, but as they fight with each other, the only one who loses here are the kids.
"That park is for them,'' he said. "So they lose out when anyone is fighting over that park."
Mike Camunas can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 544-1771.