By 6 p.m., the conference room at a downtown architectural firm is crowded, but not with the people Page wants to see. Here are two architects, three Parks Department employees, one City Council assistant, two city planners, one representative from the Port Authority, a staff member from a midtown nonprofit agency and one cop. A wealth of bureaucratic brainpower. But only one skater.
At previous gatherings, the ratio of City Hall employees to skaters has been 4-to-1. Page moved the meeting time from Wednesday afternoons to Thursday evenings, but it doesn't seem to have made a difference.
Like this meeting, the Kansas City Skate Park Committee has gotten off to a slow start -- even though it's been meeting twice a month since December.
The group's impetus was a bizarre incident last fall -- Mayor Kay Barnes called a press conference and issued a warning to skaters invading downtown's Barney Allis Plaza ("Barbarians Rule," November 7, 2002).
After the mayor suffered a deluge of criticism for her grumpy message, Councilwoman Teresa Loar (who'd helped get a skate park built north of the river) volunteered to head up a skate-park task force charged with developing a "centrally located" skate park.
Over the months, task forcers have made several notable observations:
· One member's take on building a skate park in Berkley Park: "There's that river walk we spent all this money on, [but] I can't imagine going there for any reason other than to get mugged."
· Another on Penn Valley Park: "It's not a good site. I got propositioned there. And if I get propositioned there...."
· One skater referred to The Scout as "that guy on a horse," causing Parks officials and Loar to shake their heads in what appeared to be half-amusement, half-disgust.
· Someone from the mayor's office proposed putting a skate park at Ninth Street and Woodland, but committee members couldn't picture this location. Perhaps, someone suggested, the mayor had meant Kemp Park at Tenth Street and Harrison, currently a favorite campsite for homeless people. "There's nothing going on there," said Pam Sloan of the Parks Department. "There's a lot going on there," Page countered. "That's probably the No. 1 narcotics spot in the city," added a policeman.
· At one point, a committee member defined "centrally located" as "Well, if you live 20 miles to the north, and 20 miles to the south, in the middle of that."
That didn't help the task force figure out what to do about its first issue of concern, though: where to put the park.
That's why Claude Page needs more skaters on February 17.
Finally, a few roll in: Tom Wyker from Zowie's in Westport; Zach Wilson, owner of the Crossroads skate shop Lovely. A younger skater arrives with him, wearing a Lovely sweatshirt. Later, another skater shows up, chauffeured by an uninterested older brother.
The group starts talking yet again about possible locations for a large skate park. City planners point out that people in the neighborhood around Kessler Reservoir, on Cliff Drive, would welcome a skate park -- that's a considerable upside for members of a scene accustomed to detractors (like the mayor). But others doubt whether parents, particularly those coming from the suburbs, would drop off their kids in the northeast neighborhood near Prospect and Independence. Wilson says his mom probably would have refused when he was younger.
"My mom would have dropped me off and hoped I didn't come back," Wyker says.
Consensus finally begins to form. For one thing, Page and fellow planner John DeBauche have brought good news. Councilman Jim Rowland promises to fund a skate park if the group chooses a spot in his district.
"The skate park is a perfect opportunity to showcase the 4th District," Rowland later tells the Pitch, adding that money will come from his district's public-improvement funds. He estimates as much as $20,000 of this year's budget could go toward design and planning costs, with much more coming out of next year's budget. Rowland says construction could begin by 2005.
With news of Rowland's offer, committee members look even more closely at Penn Valley Park, already a leading candidate. The park stands out because it meets several of the committee's criteria. Because it's so close to I-35, it'll be an attention grabber. Skaters can take city buses directly to the park or skate to nearby businesses for food and drinks.
The downside, they say, is Penn Valley's reputation as a giant outdoor bathhouse.
"But if the skate park is well-used, [will that keep] neighborhood problems like that away?" Page asks.
"It's going to change the dynamic," says urban developer Adam Jones.
If chosen, Penn Valley would fulfill the committee's original purpose. After all, the group was formed because skaters were frequenting downtown spots such as Barney Allis Plaza, near Bartle Hall. In early meetings, committee members had sometimes wanted to move the skate park further from Barney Allis. Now Penn Valley and the Berkley Riverfront are the two main spots being considered.
As the meeting draws to a close, though, there's still a bit of dissent. One first-time attendee suggests refocusing on Bartle Hall. And when he says "on Bartle Hall," he means it. Describing a project built on the roof of a vacant shopping mall in Chicago, he asks committee members to consider a skate park that sits atop Bartle Hall.
The group has yet to make a final decision.