City officials hope a new skate park will keep youth from skateboarding in Fountain Square. Photo above of celebration after the Biden-Harris victory in November.

Evanston officials rolled out a plan Jan. 19 to build a temporary skate park, at a site still to be determined – but definitely removed from renovated Fountain Square Plaza, which has become a favorite spot of some skateboarders during the pandemic.

In a memo for the Jan. 19 special City Council meeting, Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, said staff is working  with the American Ramp Company (ARC) to design and build a temporary skate park.

Officials would develop a usage policy to go along with the installation that would include hours of operation, he said.

Mr. Hemingway said staff would then determine options for a permanent skate park, including the process for public review.

Details of a Temporary Skate Park  

Mr. Hemingway said ARC has estimated the cost to purchase and install a temporary skate park at $35,000.

The parking lot behind the Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., the City-owned parking lot adjacent to the east end of Twiggs Park at Ashland Avenue and the City’s parking lot at 500 South Blvd., east of Chicago Avenue, are possible locations for the temporary skate park installation, he said.

In his presentation, though, he noted that with a temporary facility, “one of the downfalls is a much shorter life. You can only last up to five years. Obviously, we want to move quickly on a more permanent solution,” he told Council members.

A permanent skate park could cost in the range of $350,000-$750,000, Mr. Hemingway said.

“We will need to design, and make sure that any support infrastructure for drainage and all things are built into the design,” he said. “Just like all Park installations or playgrounds or other things, it has a 20-year lifecycle. So it’s worth the investment and lasts much longer.” 

He said any City park where there is sufficient open space could be a candidate for such a facility. He said Lovelace Park, Twiggs Park, Beck Park, Mason Park, and James Park are under consideration.

Long History

The City and skateboarder activities have been a source of discussion since the late 1990s, spurring the building of one skate park.

In 1997, aldermen had considered an ordinance fining skateboarders up to $500 for the damage their activities caused to downtown areas, including Fountain Square.

In the face of community reaction, officials scaled back the amount to $50.

The City eventually built a small skateboard park adjacent to the old Robert Crown Community Center, at 1701 Main Street.

The park attracted some skateboarders, but use then fell off. In his memo, Mr. Hemingway noted the equipment used in that park “was manufactured of wood, which eventually degraded and was not replaced.

“Therefore, this facility was ultimately discontinued,” he concluded.

Skateboarders have returned to downtown in recent years, including Fountain Square, where they have been particularly visible during the pandemic.

At the Dec. 2 First Ward community meeting, Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, reported that one of the downtown residents took a video of the skateboarders in Fountain Square.  “And I was alarmed to see them skating in the streets with cars going by, and I’m just very worried that someone’s going to get injured there,” she said asking for staff help on the issue.

In his memo, Mr. Hemingway acknowledged that “without dedicated space, this activity takes place in other locations, often adapting the installed park furnishings to this use.”

At Fountain Square, which underwent an expensive renovation several years ago, he noted, that “because the furnishings were not selected with skaters in mind, the use [skateboarding] causes increased wear and tear, which results in increased maintenance costs. While providing dedicated skate park space[s] in Evanston does not guarantee that skating will not occur in other locations, it does provide an outlet for this legitimate recreational activity frequently enjoyed by the City’s teen residents.”

At the Jan. 19 City Council meeting, a number of members of the skateboarding community spoke in support of the establishment of a skate facility for their use.

“I have a few friends who skate around Evanston a lot and they have told me me about how fun it is to skate around Evanston with their friends,” said Carter Ciesemier, a Fourth Ward resident. “But they’ve also told me about their sort of run-ins with the police and about how they have told not to skate in certain areas, like Fountain Square. And I feel like the skate park is good way to create a sort of safe and secure place for skaters to go to and not feel worried about.

“It also creates sort of a meetup spot,” he said.

During Council discussion, a number of aldermen spoke in support of moving forward. 

“I think there’s a lot of people that would agree with the idea that this is something that’s probably long overdue,” said Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th 3333333333333Ward.

 “I’ve been having conversations with the community for a very long time about this,” he said. “I am supportive of having a temporary facility while the permanent one is being worked out. But I do support the permanent one as well. I think it sounds like it’s an excellent opportunity for a partnership with Ridgeville Park District – a separate park district from the City – so if that’s something that can be accomplished I think that’s a great idea. 

“We really need to get the people who are going to use the park to be the ones who are driving the design and location,” Ald. Wilson said.

He said making sure that the new site is accessible to get to should be another consideration.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, also joined Ald. Wilson in support, identifying herself as the big sister to a brother “who skateboarded all over every place we ever lived, including the Pearl Harbor Navy base, and was frequently brought home by the Shore  Patrol. 

“I am still a huge supporter of skateboarding,” she said. “It shaped my younger brother in everything he did and has done his adult life.”

But some aldermen raised concern about how the project fits in with the City’s financial plans.

“I think in our current financial situation it is crazy that we’re talking about this,” said Alderman Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward. “I think it would be great if we could pull it off but I just don’t know how, if this is something we present as a priority, when we are taking about selling all of our assets to generate revenue.”

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, sought more information from the skateboarders on how the $30,000 temporary facility would satisfy their needs.

She agreed with Alderman Suffredin, though, in his concern “for non-essential improvements at this time, especially when we have removed from the budget allocations that we had for Beck Park improvement and expansion. Beck Pak stretches along the canal from Lyons Street to Church Street.

“So to prioritize another recreation substantial bill before others that have been held I don’t think would be fair or appropriate,” she said.

While the City might not have the money right now for the project, said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, speaking earlier in the meeting, “this is a major public improvement.

“We have to [issue a] bond for this money. So, let’s do it,” she said.

She suggested that issue presented a “mini Robert Crown fund fundraising event opportunity,” such as used in that building to raise private funds towards its construction.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.