News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Guest Opinion: Skatepark can still be a reality – with your support

JoAnn Hebing

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Mill City skatepark and why it is still not under construction. Following is a brief history and an explanation of the current status.

Beginning in 2010 and continuing through 2017, community members participated in a series of open house discussions about the best location for a skatepark in Mill City. All of them, including the Mill City Parks Master Plan adopted in 2014, concluded that Kimmel Park was an unfavorable location, citing lack of visibility from law enforcement and citizens as their biggest issue. 

In 2016, the city finally agreed on a suitable location, the corner of SW Second and Cedar, across from the high school. The site is highly visible, centrally located, close to commercial businesses, close to the fire department, clinic, and more importantly, close to the kids.

At that point, at the direction of the city, the Santiam Kids and Tourism Effort (SKATE) 501c3 was formed to save taxpayers and city staff time and money. Because the skatepark would be a city park, the city retained control of decisions on the process.

SKATE then contracted with Dreamland, the world’s premier skatepark builders, to design the park. The city received almost $6,000 from the Odd Fellows Lodge to pay for all of the architectural designs and engineered plans, contingent upon using the approved site behind Stewart’s Hall.

In November 2019, the Planning Commission completed a site review and approved the site and plans for the skatepark. The site review and plans were also approved by City Council pending completion of city-imposed requirements, which more than doubled the estimated construction cost. SKATE began looking for grant opportunities and planning fund raising events because, although there was enough money on hand to build Phase I of the skatepark, no construction could start until the financing plan for the entire project was complete and approved.

Then came COVID, the fires, and the loss of community leader and president of SKATE, Melinda Flatman. However, volunteers continued to raise money, adding several thousand dollars to the skatepark fund.

In the summer of 2022, SKATE was finally ready to regroup and continue working. In October, they hosted a community open house to showcase the approved design and recruit new volunteers. In January 2023, regular monthly meetings began.

In February, the board of SKATE, along with the owner of Dreamland, attended a City Council meeting, providing an update and letting council know they were ready to begin submitting grant applications and holding fundraising activities.

Council denied SKATE’s request to pursue grant funding, saying they were considering selling the site to the school for a parking lot, despite the fact that the school currently has more than 270 available parking spots, including street parking adjacent to school property, mostly unused. 

This essentially undoes years of volunteer work, and requires starting over for an unidentified site somewhere in Kimmel Park. Walking Kimmel Park, it’s evident that, as big as it is, it is also covered with trees, buildings, ball fields, and playground features. There is no available vacant area as large as the already approved site.

SKATE volunteers are getting a clear message that it may already be too late. Email requests to city staff for information needed to complete a budget for grant applications have been repeatedly ignored. 

In June, the city, saying they didn’t want duplication of their efforts, denied a request to hold a 4th of July fundraiser at the site. SKATE had already confirmed skateboard activities and instruction, live music, a beer garden, and a few food vendors, all at no cost to the city or taxpayers.

While the community may have lost faith, SKATE believes that with community and City Council support we could still build a skatepark. The volunteers are tired, but willing to see this project through to the end. However, asking this community to donate time, energy and money right now isn’t an option. 

No one currently involved is prepared to start over, especially since there are no assurances that the city will not change its mind or that the community will, as it has done in the past, realize that Kimmel Park is a poor location for a skatepark, especially since its reputation for safety has continued to deteriorate.

Please support the skatepark by asking your city representatives to honor their commitments, and let’s get these kids a park they, and the community, can be proud of.

 

~  JoAnn Hebing
SKATE Treasurer/Board Member

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