APEX — Sounds of “oohs” and “ahhs” rippled through the audience as a rendering of a skateboard plaza appeared on a screen. People snapped photos with their cellphones.
The 50 skaters who gathered at the Apex Town Council chambers on Tuesday couldn’t have been happier. For years, they’ve been chased off of private property around town, unwelcome visitors looking for a place to practice their fancy tricks.
But finally, local skaters might get a place of their own. The council agreed to spend up to $22,000 for the design of a skate plaza at Hunter Street Park.
Unlike a traditional skate park with permanent installations, a skate plaza offers a more flexible design with open spaces. There would be benches, guardrails and steps, said Christine Hilt of CLH Designs, a firm hired by the town to design the site.
Hilt said she plans to work with the local skating community to come up with a concept for the proposed 13,000-square-foot plaza.
Construction is expected to cost about $300,000 to $350,000 – about the same price as a baseball field, she said.
The council hasn’t committed to funding the skate plaza; it plans to wait until the design work and cost estimates come in.
If all goes well, the design and construction estimates should be ready in February, and construction could start next spring, said Parks and Recreation Director John Brown.
Money for the design work will come from the town’s parks and recreation fee fund, said Councilman Scott Lassiter.
“This is what we do is all about – responding to a need that has been identified,” Lassiter said. “This is something that has been talked about for a long time.”
In a public survey used to develop an updated parks and recreation plan, many people said the town needed a skate park and more activities for teens. A skate plaza is a step in the right direction, Lassiter said.
“Other sports, they have places to go,” said Michael Litt, 13, of Apex. “They have five or six fields, and we don’t have one place. All we can do is trespass.”
Skaters usually flock to the concrete area in front of the Apex Chamber of Commerce building or the parking lot of the Apex United Methodist Church. They try to skate after business hours, but they’re not always so patient, Michael said.
The closest skate park is in Cary – too far away for teens not old enough to drive.
Fines for trespassing
Michael said police have called his parents three times because he was caught trespassing. Violators can get a fine of up to $180 in Apex for trespassing.
Apex police haven’t fined any skaters so far, but other jurisdictions have, according to police.
Tray Cromwell, 15, of Apex said the fines are like a tax.
“My friends don’t have any income to pay the tickets, so it gets passed on to their parents,” he said.
Kenneth Feliciano, 17, of Apex said a skate plaza at Hunter Street Park will help change public perception of skateboarders.
“We’re looked at as different,” he said. “In society we’re set apart because of the way we dress and our boards. There’s this stereotype of drugs and getting into trouble. I thought it was really cool that they are integrating the plaza into the community. I think people will start to view us as a positive.”
Several groups got together to help push for a skating venue. Among the supporters was Apex police Capt. Jacques Gilbert, president of Vine 919, a Christian nonprofit that hosts activities for teens, including a monthly skate event in the parking lot of the Compare Foods store.
Gilbert was inspired to start the skating events a year ago after responding to a trespassing complaint about a skater.
“He was in the street and he said, ‘Where can we go?’” Gilbert said. “That stayed with me, and I met with him the next day to talk about what we could do.”
The first event drew hundreds of skaters, and the momentum has kept up, Gilbert said.
“It was like someone kicked over an ant hill and all these skaters started coming out,” he said.
Gilbert said a skate plaza would help improve the police department’s relationship with teens.
“Now we will have a place to tell them where to go,” he said.
Skate Church minister Jeremy Johnson and Apex Outfitters and Board Co. owner Kyle Denis have also pushed for a local skate park.
“It’s forward thinking,” Denis said of the proposed design. “The biggest thing that I’m happy about is they are putting it with another park. They’re not trying to hide it. They’re proud of it.”