Backed by local businesses, a proposed highly-visible multi-use BMX skateboard park next to Kiwanis Park has Williams Lake city council’s support.
That is, with the exception of Mayor Walt Cobb.
The idea for a new skate park emerged this spring after a 14-year-old was robbed at gunpoint of his BMX on Feb. 22, 2016 at 4:35 p.m. in the afternoon at the Nathan Matthews Memorial Skate Park in Boitanio Park.
Grainy video surveillance footage of the robbery that was released the next day by the RCMP drew strong reaction in the community.
“Since, the robbery parents do not feel good about sending their kids there,” local business owner and longtime biking advocate Mark Savard told city council during a presentation about the project at a committee of the whole meeting last Tuesday.
“There has been an outpouring from people wanting to see something positive happen.”
Once the new parking lot for the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex was completed, Savard and the Williams Lake Downtown Business Improvement Area Association began to eye the remaining property between the parking lot and Kiwanis Park, formerly a ball park.
“When the original skate park was created, the idea was to have it out of sight and out of mind and that was a mistake,” Savard said. “If you look at the best 100 skate and BMX parks in Western Canada, they are all tied into a complex. They are very open and near multiple use areas because it drives out negative elements and encourages parents to be there with younger children.”
A skate park in the new location could be easily monitored by the RCMP and the rest of the community, he added.
All six councillors supported the idea of the new park in principle, and were relieved to hear Savard and the BIA want the present skate park to remain in place as well.
Cobb, however, said he thinks the present skate park can be enhanced by leveling the hillside, upgrading the features and improving its visibility.
He was also adamant that he does not want tots at Kiwanis Park exposed to some of the things he has seen at the existing skate park.
“The stuff that is done at the skate park I am not in favour of having around little children,” Cobb said. “It’s very dangerous and some of the language and activities that go on are not conducive to three, four and five year olds. I would not ever take my grandchildren to Kiwanis Park again if the skate park was there.”
Savard said he respected Cobb’s opinion but did not think the “bad element” would come down and hang out at Kiwanis Park.
The present skate park is located on the path from residential areas to the liquor store, Savard said.
“It’s a problem we can’t fix, it’s broken,” he added. “The existing park is a bit aggressive. This new park is going to be lower and softer and cater to an emerging user group.”
Coun. Laurie Walters said the change of location will change the attitude and she would have no problem taking her five-year-old grandson there.
“It is a growing popular sport and I love the idea that you are captivating the younger generation,” Walters said.
Weighing in, Coun. Scott Nelson supported the location saying it will have the attention of more ears and eyes.
“It’s important to have safe places for our youth to play their sports,” Nelson said. “Not only is it near the recreation complex, but we’ve got a proposal for a seniors residential centre across the street and a tot park adjacent. It’s the perfect catalyst to pull everyone together.”
After the armed robbery in February, mayor and council vowed to increase security at the current skate park and did fund a Boys and Girls Club pop-up park at the location during the summer to establish an adult presence there.
Manager of community safety Dave Dickson said the city met with a possible surveillance camera service provider last week and to date have not heard back.
“Inspector Jeff Pelley will be looking to see if there is any evidentiary value to having the surveillance cameras,” Dickson said. Now that they have the go-ahead from council, Savard and the BIA will develop a detailed plan, then move to the engineering design, and finally, gather financial support from local businesses, residents and grant funding for the estimated $380,000 cost of the project.
After the robbery, Savard received $8,000 in donations from the community toward replacing the stolen BMX.
When a business person donated a bike, the money was put aside to go toward the new skate park.
Lines said the BIA is very excited to have council allot the land beside Kiwanis Park to the new skate park.
“Skateboarding is a healthy activity that is accessible to all socio-economic groups,” she said. “All you need is time and a board.”
Inclusion will be the focus as they go through the funding, planning and building phases of the project, she added.