Ben Hlavacek wasn’t the first person to skate at the cul-de-sac at Fourth and Harrison streets northeast of the City Market.
“It’s smooth and slightly downhill,” said Hlavacek, who with a rotating cast of skateboard enthusiasts and volunteers began cleaning up the area last fall to make way for the six concrete structures that now make up the Harrison Street DIY skate park.
As in Do It Yourself.
“We hear stories now from people that are like, ‘I always used to skate those barriers,’” Hlavacek said.
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On Feb. 11, Kansas City’s Public Works employees responded to a 311 complaint about obstacles in the public right-of-way at the intersection, which is in the Columbus Park neighborhood.
The problem is that the skate park was built on a public street without the proper permitting.
At one point, the city appeared ready to dismantle the park but backed off in favor of more discussions.
Meanwhile, the city has installed barriers to block traffic access on the portion of Harrison Street used by the skaters.
“We don’t know that that’s a long-term solution,” said City Council member Jan Marcason. “Ideally, I would like to see them get enough funding that they could get a pocket park on land not in the street.”
Marcason and public works Director Sherri McIntyre met with the city’s legal counsel last week to assess the city’s legal liabilities and potential options. Those attending elected to seek more community input on Harrison Street DIY and leave the roadblocks in place for the time being.
“There’s just a need to have a conversation,” Marcason said, adding that she’s been in contact with the Columbus Park neighborhood association to coordinate a listening session with local residents.
The barriers will remain in place for at least a month while that work occurs.
Hlavacek expressed frustration, however, that the city is needlessly seeking neighborhood consensus on the project when his team has already gotten the green light from nearby residents.
“There’s already a consensus out there,” he said, adding that nearby residents know the do-it-yourselfers are not messing up the neighborhood.
Dan Wayne, Columbus Park resident and owner of the Soda Lofts at 918 E. Fifth St., said the organic skate park has stemmed the flow of trash and criminal activity that the intersection previously hosted.
Wayne has lived in Columbus Park for 13 years.
He said the Harrison Street DIY team has had a transformative impact in a previously neglected space.
“Their presence out there changed everything,” Wayne said.
Hlavacek also complained last week that the park’s supporters were excluded from last week’s meeting and remained unrepresented in deliberations thus far.
When public works officials appeared at Fourth and Harrison on Feb. 11, the skate park’s organizers sent an email to each of the City Council members, Mayor Sly James and Kansas City Star reporters. Among city officials, Hlavacek said, only Marcason’s office has returned his messages.
So the Harrison Street DIY remains an uncertain presence in Columbus Park. Its supporters tried unsuccessfully to secure funding in a competition earlier this year, but Hlavacek said they will be seeking funding more aggressively to support what has already been built.
The Housing Authority of Kansas City owns 7 acres around the Harrison Street DIY. That land abuts 21 acres slated for development, according to John Monroe, director of planning for the housing authority.
Much of it’s vacant right now, but Monroe said the plan is to rebuild the Columbus Park street grid.
“Eventually, it’s going to have to go,” he said of the skate park.