Innovation Quarter at odds with city skateboarders
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Skateboarders who have enjoyed using the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter as their recreational area may need relocate in the next few months.
The Winston-Salem Pubic Safety Committee on Sept. 8 discussed a proposed change to the city code, which would extend the ban on skateboarding to the Innovation Quarter. Skateboarding is already banned in the Central Business District and the West End.
Eric Tomlinson, who is President of the Innovation Quarter, brought the concerns to council members after skateboarders damaged railings and several other pieces of infrastructure on the site. He said further damage could eventually affect the future of outside investment in the complex.
“Where we currently are and where we could go with our development, the errant skateboarder is leading to a degradation in the amenities we have provided and the city has provide,” he said.
Police currently patrol the area, but Tomlinson said the real challenge will be changing the skateboarders’ attitudes.
“The balance that we have between policing the area and security we think is about right,” Tomlinson said. “I think it’s not so much policing the area that’s required. It’s the sensibility of people which needs to be addressed.”
The current city code states that “it shall be unlawful for any person to coast on a sled, coaster express wagon or toy wagon move or skate on any roller skates, skateboard or other similar device upon any public street, right-of-way, sidewalk, park or other public property located in the central business district of the city as shown on the official zoning map of the city adopted as part of the city zoning ordinance by the city council.” Most cities around the country have similar statutes in place.
At the committee meeting, many of the council members were sympathetic to Tomlinson’s concerns but said they thought the Innovation Quarter’s visual appeal would draw skateboarders regardless of the law.
“Even if it’s not for them, they will come,” Councilwoman Denise Adams said. “I would rather you protect the neighborhoods from break-ins and burglary than skateboarders.”
Councilman Jeff MacIntosh said he supports a ban but thinks a better strategy is to start a dialogue with the skateboarding community. He said this happened during the spring when skateboarding was banned in the West End and someone contacted him on Facebook. The city’s Parks and Recreation department helped set up a temporary skate park at the fairgrounds this summer in response to the demand.
“I think a general agreement was that having a temporary structure there would take pressure off some of the other public places,” MacIntosh said. “It’s a sport like any other sport. For basketball you have recreation centers, you have pools. We support a lot of those other things.”
This issue surfaced two years ago when skateboarders who were frustrated at having to go to other cities to find a skate park started petitions on Change.org calling for a permanent skate park in Winston-Salem. Many council members have offered support for a permanent location, but no action has been taken yet.
MacIntosh said he can understand why skateboarders in the Innovation Quarter could present a problem but said he does not think their intent is malicious.
“You’ve got to look the best, you’ve got to walk the best, you’ve got to talk the best and so if you’re pouring millions of dollars you’ve got to make it the best facility possible,” he said. “You don’t want to blemish it. You don’t want it torn up by kids who really don’t think along those lines. They’re not thinking let’s go down and create a lot of havoc, they’re thinking this is a great place to grind.”
Ric Carter, the proprietor of Exodus Skate Shop in Winston-Salem, said customers regularly come into his store to complain about being harassed by police downtown.
“You can’t even walk with one (skateboard) in your hand,” he said. “In any situation there’s cops that see it one way and then of course cops that see it in a more logical way.”
Carter has owned Exodus for 15 years and said the no-skateboarding laws have always been strict. He thinks many skateboarders are mistakenly perceived as hooligans but in reality only a small fraction are bent that way.
MacIntosh said he agrees that skateboarders are often misunderstood and thinks this is due to their appearance.
“I think maybe it’s a generational kind of thing,” he said. “You know when you see baseball players and basketball players at the high school level they’re dressed in their uniforms when they’re performing. When you see skateboarders they’re in their hoodies or baggy jeans so I think there’s a misperception of what kind of kids are involved. None of the skaters that I have met have been disrespectful or troublemakers. I don’t think that anybody is saying that beyond the skating there’s problems.”
Tomlinson too feels that there ought to be a better option for skateboarders and is willing to work with the city to find a location that is safer and less disruptive to business.
“We want to find a way of engaging with the skateboarding community to make sure that we can help them,” he said. “What we want to make sure of as this research park develops is that we accommodate all.” The Public Safety Committee will again discuss the issue at its October meeting. !