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Stewy's Skate Park mom keeps her concession stand

Amber Costa opens and closes the gates and runs the concession stand at Spring Hill’s Stewy’s Skate Park, which is named for her son, who was killed in 2001 at the age of 12 when the scooter he was riding on was struck by a car. Costa says she’s like a mom to the young skaters who visit the park.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Amber Costa opens and closes the gates and runs the concession stand at Spring Hill’s Stewy’s Skate Park, which is named for her son, who was killed in 2001 at the age of 12 when the scooter he was riding on was struck by a car. Costa says she’s like a mom to the young skaters who visit the park.

SPRING HILL

For several weeks, Amber Costa worried whether she would be allowed to continue running the small concession stand at the skate park named after her late son, Stewy Abramowicz.

Costa has been operating the stand at Stewy's Skate Park since it opened in 2003 not for the money but to keep her son's memory alive and to help out the swarm of skaters who come from miles around to the park.

"To a lot of these kids I'm their mom, the person that looks out for them," she said.

But her association with the park nearly came to an end in July when the concession stand contract came up for renewal. Costa has been the stand's only operator, but county officials told her she would have to compete against other potential bidders.

Thanks to hundreds of letters of support from current and former skaters and their friends and families, however, Costa will remain a fixture at the popular park.

While it is standard practice to solicit bids for county contracts, Costa wondered whether something else was behind the county's actions.

Costa had been reprimanded several times in the past for allowing events at the park without first notifying the county, and for not carrying the necessary liability insurance.

Some in the county's Park and Recreation department have grumbled over the years that Costa believes the skate park belongs to her and that she does not have to answer to the county workers.

Costa acknowledges that her relations with the county have not always been rosy. "We've had our differences in the past, that's for sure," she said.

She also doesn't deny that her affection for the park and what it means to her runs deep and may have been misunderstood by some in the government.

Costa helped spearhead the effort to create the park in honor of her 12-year-old son who in 2001 was struck and killed by a car while he and his twin brother Anthony were riding on a scooter.

Stewy had been trying to get the county to build a skate park when he was killed, and he and his friends had collected more than 300 signatures. After he died, Costa and several others took up the cause.

The community managed to raise $125,000 through fundraisers and private donations, which the County Commission matched. The skaters helped design the 18,720-square-foot park at 6799 Pinehurst Drive, not far from where Stewy died.

In 2005, backed by petitions bearing 4,262 signatures, Costa and her friends persuaded the County Commission to rename the Pioneer Park facility in honor of her son. Thus, Stewy's Skate Park was officially born.

Since it opened, Costa has been at the park virtually every day.

Running the concession stand and her other duties is hardly lucrative. The county pays her $300 a month to open and close the gates at the park, which is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. She pays the county $412.50 a month for utilities and the right to sell snacks and beverages.

Costa, 42, works full time as a meter reader for a gas company and runs the concession stand in her spare time.

Costa said she was angered at first by the pressure she felt was being put on her by parks officials. "Sometimes I don't think they realized how much of my life has gone into that park," she said.

Costa's was the only bid in July, but Parks Director Pat Fagan said staff determined the bid was incomplete because she failed to fill out all of the forms.

In the end, Fagan said he and his staff decided that Costa was qualified to run the concession area and they are negotiating a contract that will keep her on the job for one year with a two-year renewable clause.

"We felt it was best to have an agreement that everyone could live with," Fagan said, adding that he is satisfied that Costa now understands that she must comply with county policies.

For her part, Costa said she wants to build a more positive relationship with the county as time goes along.

"All of us now need to think about the future," she said, "and what we can do for the kids that come to this park."

Information from Times files was used in this report. Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

Stewy's Skate Park mom keeps her concession stand 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 6:12pm]
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