A Gillham Park skatepark meeting raises questions about who behaves more badly: skateboarders or neighborhood activists.

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A Gillham Park skatepark meeting raises questions about who behaves more badly: skateboarders or neighborhood activists.

On the hottest day of the summer, dozens of Hyde Park residents converged in Gillham Park, their blood already boiling.

Two weeks earlier, the Pitch had reported that a task force of area skaters, civic activists and City Hall employees had selected Gillham Park as the best site for an urban skatepark ("Slab Happy," August 7). After eight months of weekly meetings, the task force was ready to gauge public opinion and, barring a neighborhood revolt, take the project to the parks board for approval.

And then, a revolt.

On August 21, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association met at the park. The group had invited task force members and parks employees to describe the project, but it was clear the evening would be more about confrontation than information. More than a hundred residents showed up, many of them afraid the skatepark was already a done deal, several furious that Gillham Park had been considered at all.

The angriest ones blasted Councilman Jim Rowland for pledging funds for a skatepark in the 4th District. One man carried a sign, cut in the shape of a tombstone, reading "Recall Rowland."

After a brief presentation by city employees, the meeting was opened for discussion. Support and opposition ran fairly even, with a handful of speakers undecided. Yet the acrimony on display, mostly from residents who chose to shout from the audience rather than speak at the podium, swamped the event. When skater and task force member Zach Wilson spoke -- "We just want to be part of the whole Gillham project and be part of your park," he said -- his voice was nearly drowned out by belligerent opponents who demanded to know where he lived. (A former Hyde Park resident, Wilson now lives downtown, where he operates his own business.)

Hyde Park residents who spoke in favor of the skatepark met similar derision, often from people who listened just long enough to discern their neighbor's position before dismissing it with loud comments or outright heckling. Meanwhile, a large group of area skaters stood nearby, quietly listening to the speakers.

Almost everyone agreed that an urban skatepark would draw skaters from all over the metro, if not the Midwest. That's what bothers Hyde Parker Greg Hugeback, a leader of the opposition. Hugeback concedes that many of his neighbors' arguments -- that a skatepark would be too noisy, that it would create pollution, that it would draw liquor-peddling ice cream trucks -- are unfounded. But he says a world-class skatepark isn't a good match for a community park such as Gillham. "It belongs downtown, on the riverfront or in Swope Park," he says.

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association meets again on the issue September 16 at Central Presbyterian Church.

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