The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Wynn gets down with the skate crowd

By Wells Dunbar, July 29, 2005, News

When legions of preteens and young adults braved Saturday's sweltering summer temperatures to descend on the city's House Park facilities for its second annual skateboarding contest, they likely weren't expecting Mayor Will Wynn to add much heat to the situation. He did just that, however, by detailing plans for the city's first public skatepark, stating support for future facilities, and authorizing creation of a temporary skatepark on public land, of which skaters would be the ultimate stewards.

Laurie Pevey, of skate shop Tekgnar, introduced Mayor Wynn and congratulated him for making good on his "most important campaign promise," the creation of a public skatepark. Wynn, keeping it casual in a faded T and surprisingly tasteful camo shorts, emphasized "three big points," the first being that "Mabel Davis will be open early this coming fall."

South Austin's Mabel Davis Park will house the city's skate facility, designed and built by skatepark professionals Grindline. Parts of the park have been undergoing an environmental scouring, as Mabel Davis sits astride the former landfill of St. Edward's University. Cleanup is slated to continue while the concrete is poured. Wynn said the process won't hamper Mabel Davis' opening, but it will be "pretty close."

Wynn then told the sweaty, sinewy swath of the River Street slab's public opening. Destined to be the Mexican American Cultural Center, construction was temporarily halted after the concrete foundation was laid, making the vacant lot great for skating. Seth Johnson, co-director of the Austin Public Skatepark Action Committee and one of the day's speakers, was overjoyed with the decision, and the opportunity to make skaters "stewards of their scene." Pointing to a coat of fresh paint covering tags and graffiti behind the House Park's ramps, Johnson hoped responsibility, not an aura of entitlement, would reign at River Street. "A month ago, park police started ejecting kids from the slab," said Johnson, the police irritated by litter and petty vandalism. He didn't believe it, he said, until cleaning graffiti at the slab one day and having the park police arrive.

Working with the mayor's office, Johnson pointed out the positive aspects of opening the slab, such as increasing foot traffic through the somewhat sketchy dead-end street. Ultimately, they came to an agreement that the slab would stay open as long as it was maintained and respected by its visitors.

Speaking at the podium after Mayor Wynn, Johnson admonished the crowd to "politely [tell] your friend tagging his name is something that's not permissible." A "scourge for our whole subculture," Johnson warned that tagging and the like would have an implacable impact on the future of Austin skating. "They're waiting to see what happens," said Johnson; either "the floodgates will open" to new parks, or Mabel Davis will be the last public skate park ever built, he warned. "It's up to us."

Ending his speech, Wynn pointed to the original, now dilapidated rec center sitting along Shoal Creek at the entrance to the House Park center. Saying the building would soon be demolished to make way for a parking garage, the location dictated placing the garage "on stilts" to avoid flooding. Underneath it, Wynn proposed an underground, shaded skate park, complete with a mural adorning the ceiling, as "cool as this country's ever seen." Parks are full of children and adults, said the mayor. "We lose that middle section [of the population]," Wynn said, hoping to "keep an important segment of the community in the parks system."

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