It might look like just another quiet, empty lot on a suburban street, but the area at the corner of Fourth and Harrison streets has caused quite a debate in Columbus Park.
A group of skaters from the area saw opportunity in that empty lot, and with the addition of a few platforms and a quarter-pipe, a “pop-up” skate park materialized.
This caused concern with the city council, as skaters and traffic don’t mix, so a portion of Harrison Street was shut down.
At a public meeting March 24, around 50 residents showed up to voice their concerns.
Matt Lowe, Columbus Park Community Council president, moderated the discussion, and heard from those upset that the road has been closed since mid-February.
After a public discussion that was generally positive about the skate park, but also adamant about reopening Harrison Street, public works removed the barriers blocking traffic on Harrison Street last week. Portions of the pop-up skate park on the road will be demolished, and the public works department will allow the skatepark to occupy a cul-de-sac farther from traffic.
“The vast majority of our neighbors are absolutely in favor of having this (skatepark),” Lowe said. “They see a lot of benefit, and I do, too. The biggest push-back I saw was not about the skatepark itself, but people were just confused about why the street was closed.”
Those in the crowd at the Don Bosco Senior Center who spoke up in favor of the skatepark, noted that the area has been safer, and with less criminal activity since the youth started gathering there.
Public Works Director Sherri McIntrye and 4th District Councilwoman Jan Marcason joined the meeting, and listened to both concern and praise from residents who would have preferred the street remain closed.
“Since the street’s been closed, it’s become a park-like setting,” local resident Taylor Miller said in the meeting. “It was scary before. I go running through it regularly; it’s amazing.”
The skate park is on roads that hug land belonging to the Housing Authority of Kansas City, which plans to begin building apartments on the land in three to five years, said Joseph Egan, head of economic development corporation redevelopment.
The city’s initial decision to close the street bought time for public works officials to figure out their next move and to provide protection to the skaters using what’s known as the Harrison Street DIY — the name of the authorized skate park. The road closure was also created to protect the city against what they assessed as a significant legal liability: skateboarders and cars sharing a roadway.
Columbus Park resident Richard Blaisdell listed other legal liabilities the city might consider: barbeque grills and swing sets.
“Anytime there’s human beings involved,” he said.
Dan Wayne, a Columbus Park landlord, said the act-first, ask-later nature of the skate park’s build used to be standard.
“We used to build forts and treehouses without permits all the time,” he said. “And now, we live in a different environment. I know it’s an effort to drive around the (closed section of road), but that doesn’t compare to the effort that these guys have taken to build this (the skate park).”
Pete Mesh, owner of Columbus Park restaurant The North End, said he’s OK with the skate park.
It just needs to be moved elsewhere, he said.
“I like who’s down there, what they’re doing — I like everything about it, but I’m getting a lot of blow-back from customers who like to travel that route,” Mesh said.
Columbus Park resident Jeanne Tyson used the route to get to work, and was confused by the closure.
“Nobody knows even why this street got closed without people in Columbus Park knowing about it,” Tyson said before the meeting.
When she discovered an unpermitted project had been built in the middle of a city street, and that the space would be blocked to give the decision-makers time and the skaters protection — she was unhappy.
She drew a comparison: “OK, I’m going to block off my back alley just because I want to. There are rules and regulations, and I don’t understand why (the skatepark builders) don’t have to follow them.”
She proposed moving the activity behind the barrier blocking the Fourth Street cul-de-sac at the intersection, and most agreed that was a agreeable solution.
“The skate park is great for the city and the neighborhood,” Lowe said. “The neighbors are definitely excited to keep it alive.”