ST. PETE BEACH — Vandalism at and near the community center has cost thousands of dollars and could force the city to close the skateboard park.
Since the current skate park opened in 2007, skateboarders have destroyed a $5,000 fence, harassed members of wedding parties, painted graffiti on city and nearby residential structures, and regularly "trashed" the grounds around the city's $8 million recreational complex.
"I was this close to taking a front end loader and pushing the (skateboarding) equipment off to the side so no one could use it," Public Services director Steve Hallock told the commission last week during a lengthy debate over vandalism caused by skateboarders.
Vice Mayor Al Halpern first raised the issue after residents of the adjacent Isles of the Bay condominium complained to him that skateboarders are trespassing on their property.
A 6-foot wall separates the community center complex from the condominium pool area. Halpern said the skateboarders squeeze around the end of the wall at the seawall to enter the pool area.
Halpern said the skateboarders often "dangled their feet in the pool to cool their sneakers off. When residents asked them to leave, the kids gave them a hard time."
The original skateboard park was built in 2001 on a 90- by 70-foot triangular patch of ground in the southwest corner of the then City Hall complex at 7701 Boca Ciega Drive.
Six years later, when the complex was transformed into an $8.2 million waterfront park and 11,000-square-foot community center, the skateboard park was moved to the south side of the main community center building.
The park has no regular supervision, primarily for liability reasons. Even though the Police Department is located just south of the community center complex, that apparently has not deterred the skateboarders' misbehavior.
"It is not only graffiti and physical damage. It is damaging the image and reputation of our wonderful and beautiful community center," Hallock told the commission. "Almost every day the area is trashed, trash cans thrown over."
Warnings of the possible closing will be announced at a special National Go Skateboarding Day at the park Sunday.
City officials hope skateboarders will begin to police themselves.
If not, and the vandalism continues, the City Commission indicated last week it will close the park.
Hallock said he will give the skateboarders "one last chance" to improve their behavior
Sunday, that message will be repeated over loudspeakers at a special event celebrating National Go Skateboarding Day at the park.
The event, open to the public, will feature a "best tricks" contest and live concert by Ramble at noon, hosted in conjunction with the Finest Skateshop.
City recreation officials plan to hand out fliers announcing the crackdown on vandalism.
"If the vandalism does not stop, we will take one piece of equipment away each time until the vandalism stops or there is no more skate park," Hallock said.