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Skaters make call for special facilities

A proposal to ban skateboarding in downtown Clearwater would leave children stranded, unless the city builds a skating park, opponents of the proposed ordinance say.

"Some skaters respect property, but don't have anywhere to go," occasional skateboarder Travis Kruger, 17, said.

Mike Graff, 16, said he and his friends need recreational space, and skating gives them something to do.

"The city could easily set up a skate park and we'd pay admission," Graff said.

Kruger and Graff say they support responsible skateboarding. If skaters cause damage, they say, they should be cited; otherwise, skaters should be left alone.

"It's not like the kids want to break the law," said Brian Gardner, 30, who manages Fritz's Skate Shop at 700 Cleveland St. "They're looking for a place to go. Let's not just ban it so they go somewhere else."

The proposed ordinance would prohibit skateboarding in downtown and place limits on people who use roller skates, in-line skates and "other similar devices." Parents could be ticketed if their children defy the ordinance after one warning.

Damage caused by skateboarders at City Hall, the Harborview Center and other downtown areas prompted the city to look into a ban. Few skaters cause the damage, Gardner said, and they are the ones who should be punished.

Unless Clearwater builds a skate park, or puts facilities in existing parks, skaters will look for a place to pursue their hobby.

"If they had a park, they wouldn't need the City Hall," he said.

Ream Wilson, Clearwater's parks and recreation director, said the city had no plans to build a skateboard park.

"Right now there really is no facility for skateboarders, either private or public," Wilson said.

Wilson said the city had plans to accommodate in-line skaters and roller-hockey players in its parks, but liability issues had prevented plans for a skateboarding area.

The proposed ban is a "broad-brush approach," Wilson said. Skating should be prohibited only in areas where it is a problem, like at City Hall, he said.

The commission will consider the skating ban Monday. Mayor Rita Garvey said something had to change about skating in Clearwater.

"They're going off of bike racks and doing all sorts of crazy things, even outside of City Hall," she said.

The commission will have a tough time making a decision, she said. The commission is likely to discuss the possibility of building a skate park, Garvey said. "That would be the logical next step" if the city were to approve the ban, she said.

Business owners in downtown Clearwater said the small number of skateboarders they see are a minor nuisance, not a large-scale problem.

"The sidewalk is designed for pedestrian traffic," said Al Bitman, who owns Park Jewelers on Cleveland Street. "The biggest problem with skateboarders is people will get run over."