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Wheels turning for more skate parks

(ran East, South, West, Seminole editions)

With its first skate park rocking and rolling, the city government might bring half-pipe heaven to at least two more neighborhoods.

Walter Fuller Park in Jungle Terrace and Lake Vista Park in Greater Pinellas Point are high-potential skate sites, recreation officials said last week.

Bartlett Park in Midtown also is a possible site, but does not enjoy as high a priority as the others.

At least a few City Council members have shown interest.

James Bennett, John Bryan, Bill Foster and Rick Kriseman heard City Services Administrator Lee Metzger mention the possible new sites during a meeting Thursday of the council's wheeled recreation committee.

There was no detailed discussion, but council members asked recreation staff to return with site plans.

"We'll revisit the issue in a month or so," said Bryan, who pushed for the wheeled recreation panel when he was elected in 2001.

The first city-run skate park opened in June in Fossil Park at the Willis S. Johns Recreation Center, 6635 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.

It has been popular enough to warrant consideration of more, Metzger said. Late last year, almost 1,000 people had filled out liability forms skaters are required to sign.

A privately developed skate park, whose owner contracted with the city to operate it on city property in Coquina Key, closed soon after the Fossil Park site opened.

Also dead is a private proposal to establish a park under the Interstate 375 overpass on Dr. Martin Luther King Street N near Fifth Avenue.

"We would have had to spend a bundle of money and not had the opportunity for city supervision," Metzger said of the idea.

The supervision issue emerged at the committee meeting.

The Fossil site proved so popular that the city hired a security company to head off potential trouble, then began charging skaters $60 per year to pay for it.

Skater Ken O'Leary, who served on the advisory committee to develop the park, told council members he and some of his fellow skaters object to the supervision policy.

"It's not the security guard we have a problem with. We don't want the costs passed on to the user or picked up by the taxpayers of St. Petersburg," said O'Leary, 33, who has been a skateboarder since 1982.

He presented several options to security guards, including use of a "skate patrol" composed of people who use the park.

Council members listened politely, even suggesting patrols might be a good thing at some point.

But they made it clear they liked having the park supervised. And Metzger said parents have told him they feel better about letting their youngsters use the park with a security guard present.

Bartlett Park originally was the No. 1 priority for a new site. But a grant that would have financed it did not come through, Metzger said.

That doesn't mean Bartlett is out of the picture.

Once Walter Fuller and Lake Vista are established, Bartlett Park could be next in line, Metzger said.

A skate park would be welcome, said Charles Payne, who is on the board of the Bartlett Park Neighborhood Association.

"There is a large area not being equitably used, not being used as much as it should be. A skate park would enable the kids to have a better choice of something to do. It's about time," Payne said.

He thinks two softball fields at Bartlett Park aren't popular and could be put to better use.

Money from the sale of Weeki Wachee Springs financed the Fossil skate park and might be available to pay for Walter Fuller and Lake Vista sites.

"That's yet to be decided. That's what the expectation is," Metzger said.

"We have no money budgeted in (the capital improvements program) or in the Penny for Pinellas (sales tax proceeds). It meets all guidelines for Weeki Wachee funding," he said.

New ones would be about the same size as the Fossil skate park, or about 13,000 square feet. They would have the same array of ramps and half-pipes, would be supervised and probably would be lighted.

The Fossil park cost about $220,000, more than originally expected _ a development that annoyed the full City Council.

Besides needing City Council approval, the skate park proposals will have to win endorsement from the neighborhoods where they would be located. City officials will present the Walter Fuller plan to the Jungle Terrace Civic Association in March.

Then the residents will vote on whether they want the park, association president Tom Killian said.

Following usual city policy, similar meetings will be set up with residents in other neighborhoods affected, Metzger said.