On Tuesday night at their regular monthly meeting, the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission unanimously authorized up to $400,000 in matching funds for a skatepark being developed by the Ann Arbor Skatepark Action Committee (AASAC). The future location of the skateboarding facility is planned for the northeast corner of Veterans Memorial Park on the city’s west side.
The county’s parks and recreation program is funded by two separate, dedicated countywide tax levies at 0.25 mill apiece – for capital improvements and maintenance, respectively. The millages are separate from the county’s general operating millage.
The offer of matching funds came with the clear expectation from commissioners at the meeting that the county will be given its due – in terms of signage and participation in the project as it moves forward.
Bob Tetens, director of Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation, spoke at the meeting about the ability of the county to leverage the fundraising efforts of AASAC to achieve an $800,000 skatepark, instead of a $400,000 skatepark. For AASAC’s part, the plan all along was to build an $800,000 skatepark – plus establish a $200,000 endowment for maintenance.
The promised funds from the county will allow AASAC to leverage the match as part of their fundraising efforts. From that point of view, the timing of the county’s decision worked out to AASAC’s advantage. This Saturday, March 13, from noon-6 p.m. Red Belly Boardshop will sponsor The Grinds of March, a benefit for the Ann Arbor Skatepark fund to be held in a warehouse located at 704 Airport Blvd.
The city of Ann Arbor has so far not offered dollars in support of the skatepark, but has approved use of the site, and struck a memorandum of understanding with AASAC. Ten out of 11 councilmembers also signed a letter dated March 8, 2010, urging the county’s parks and recreation commission to support the skatepark.
County Parks Commission Deliberations on the Skatepark
Discussion of the skatepark item was moved up as the first item for discussion after public commentary, from its original spot under “New Business.” That move meant that AASAC steering committee members Trevor Staples and Jim Reische did not have to wait through three reports, plus five items worth of old business for the commission to deliberate on the skatepark funding.
Bob Tetens, director of Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation, led off discussion by noting that the skatepark committee had contacted the commission numerous times and that Staples and Reische had appeared before the commission at its January 2010 meeting and made a presentation. At the staff level, Tetens said, the skatepark proposal had been considered for over a year and a half.
In October 2009, Tetens was not yet ready to advocate for funding the skatepark [Chronicle coverage: "Skatepark Rolls Towards Design"]:
At this point, Tetens explained, “We don’t have the numbers … We don’t know what ‘it’ is – a $200,000 park or a $2 million park.” Once you have a conceptual design, he said, you have a project you can talk about.
On Tuesday evening, Tetens pointed out that development of the skatepark had progressed beyond the conceptual design phase. [Skatepark designer Wally Hollyday held a design charette on Oct. 18, 2009.] Tetens also noted that the Skatepark Action Committee was well on its way to achieving 501(c)3 nonprofit status.
He observed that the skatepark enjoyed overwhelming support in the community and that the proposed site was situated on a bus route.
Deliberations: Veterans Memorial Park Site
With respect to the siting along a bus route, commissioner Janice Anschuetz noted that previously the commission had talked about building a skatepark out at Rolling Hills, a county park on North Territorial Road. What made the proposed Veterans Memorial Park location better, she said, was that a kid from Ypsilanti would be able to get on a bus and ride it to the skatepark.
Conan Smith – who serves on the parks and recreation commission as a representative of the county board, along with Rolland Sizemore Jr. – declared that he was excited by the skatepark, because it was in his neck of the woods. [Smith represents District 10 in Ann Arbor.] He observed that if you’ve ever had a drink at Knight’s, you might be familiar with the corner of Maple and Dexter-Ann Arbor, where the park is planned. With a stellar park [Veterans Memorial Park] at its heart, Smith said, it would drive mixed-use and mixed-income development in the area.
Deliberations: The County Gets Its Due
One concern shared by commissioners was that the county be appropriately recognized for its role in supporting the skatepark. Rolland Sizemore Jr. wondered: “Do we have any input, or is it Ann Arbor and skateboard people?” Trevor Staples assured Sizemore that up to now there’d been a three-way partnership between the Ann Arbor Skatepark Action Committee, the city of Ann Arbor, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, but that they wanted to negotiate the participation of a fourth member. “We want it to be a partnership,” concluded Staples.
Commissioner Jimmie Maggard agreed that the county should have “someone on board.”
Sizemore moved an amendment to the resolution, which was accepted as friendly, that stipulated the county’s participation as the project moved forward. After the vote, he suggested that Conan Smith take the position representing the county on the project, but Smith said that county parks planner Jeff Dehring might be a better choice – he was open to discussion on that.
Janice Anschuetz also wanted to make sure the county was recognized, and that it was clear that the skatepark was not just for Ann Arbor – signage at the park would help with that, she said.
Commission chair Robert Marans declared that it would be a countywide facility before calling for the vote, which was unanimous.
Though he supported the resolution, Stephen Solowczuk noted that he’d wished for a bit more forewarning. He noted that a $600,000 allocation for a segment of the Border-to-Border Trail near Dexter meant that they’d be allocating $1 million in one night – they couldn’t have too many nights like that, he warned.
Deliberations: Ann Arbor Support
Commissioners noted the importance of the letter of support that the Ann Arbor city council had sent them, along with a copy of the resolution that the council had passed on Dec. 1, 2008, which approved a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Skatepark Action Committtee. In that resolution, noted Bob Tetens, the “shelf-life” on the city’s land allocation for the skatepark at Veterans Memorial requires that construction begin no later than Jan. 1, 2014.
The letter from city councilmembers mentioned by Tetens and others was dated March 8, 2010. It was forwarded electronically by city administrator Roger Fraser to the county’s parks and recreation commission. In Fraser’s email message, he stated that commissioners would receive a physical copy of the councilmembers’ letter. The electronic version indicates that it will be signed by all councilmembers except for Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). In addition, there’s a space for Scott Rosencrans, who chairs the city’s park advisory commission, to sign the letter. [.txt file of cover letter from Fraser and letter text by councilmembers]
Board Deliberations: Fundraising
During deliberations, commission chair Robert Marans asked how the skatepark advocates planned to raise their $400,000. Jim Reische, fundraising co-chair for AASAC, told the commission he felt that the matching funds would allow them to pursue gifts in the 5-6 figure range – he based that on conversations with prospective donors. He also cited a tremendous grassroots effort, now centered on a social networking fundraising site called crowdrise. [That site indicates $20,000 now raised out of the $1 million goal.]
Reische also told the commission about the Grinds of March fundraiser on Saturday. The revelation that Andy MacDonald would be skating was met with a “You’ve got to be kidding” from Anschuetz.
Grinds of March
Over the last weekend in February, The Chronicle documented photographically some of the ramp construction activity at 704 Airport Blvd. in a warehouse where the Skatepark Action Committee has built up a wooden skateboard ramp for the Grinds of March fundraiser on March 13. [After turning west onto Airport Boulevard off State Street, look north for the large "704" numbering.]