ST. PETERSBURG — There was a time, about 20 years ago, when the sight of skateboarders caused shudders for those who lived and worked downtown.
Business owners wrote letters saying they were a nuisance and caused property damage. People called riders disrespectful. Parents and police accused skateboarders of not heeding traffic and putting themselves in harm's way.
Skateboarders were viewed, as one newspaper reporter wrote, as "the renegade land surfers from hell." So city leaders banned them from downtown.
Council member Karl Nurse thinks it's time for the city to update the rule books. He will ask his colleagues to reverse the ban. "Part of it is a message thing," he said. "The prohibition really does send the exact wrong message we're trying to communicate."
What is the city trying to communicate? That St. Petersburg is cool — and cool with skateboarders. Nurse said most skateboarders he encounters are university students who use the boards as their main transportation.
Many live close enough to downtown to skateboard to class or jobs. But that often means passing through the prohibition zone, which is bordered by Tampa Bay, 16th Street and Fifth Avenue North and South.
The ban "runs directly counter to the city's goal of embracing our younger, creative citizens," Nurse wrote in a memo to his fellow council members.
Franklin Alves, a 22-year-old USF St. Petersburg student who commutes to campus on a longboard, said skateboarding is so popular on campus that he started a club, which now has more than 100 members.
"We're not a bunch of kids who are going to go spray paint things," Alves said. "We don't go around and ruin things. We're organized and we're respectful of the community."
Alves said many of his friends don't find out about the ban until they get stopped by a police officer.
Data from the Police Department shows the ordinance has been used in 22 arrests since 2009. Officers issued the citations, which carry a $93 fine, twice last year, most recently in November.
St. Petersburg police Sgt. Randy Morton said he sometimes hears complaints from businesses about the riders, but that those are rare. He said issuing tickets are not the first choice for officers.
"We try to give education before we enforce it," he said.
Tami Simms, immediate past president of the Downtown Business Association, said she can't remember the last time she got a call about a problematic skateboarder. St. Petersburg, she said, has a different level of tolerance now.
Nurse said the change should be a simple one for people to embrace.
"You just remove two simple sentences in an ordinance and life goes on," he said.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected], (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.