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A Rogers Park Skate Park? Art Gallery Owner Says Project Would Unite Youths

By Benjamin Woodard | April 25, 2013 6:30am

ROGERS PARK — Tony Arriola, a lifetime Rogers Park resident, has big plans to bring a skate park to the neighborhood — and soon.

The 30-year-old, who also owns Howard Street Gallery, has been busy visiting park advisory councils, pitching a proposal for a street-style skate park to whomever's interested in listening.

"There's definitely an opportunity for change for the better," Arriola said of the neighborhood where he grew up.

Arriola said a skate park would help keep kids off the couch and away from gangs.

"I wish I had something like that when I was younger," he said.

The skate park proposal was being considered by the 49th Ward's participatory budgeting committees for inclusion on this year's ballot, but the idea was pulled when the Chicago Park District slapped a $750,000 price tag on the project, said Joe Maschek, a member of the parks and environment committee.

That would take up most of the $1 million available for all projects.

"I think it's a really good idea," he said. "From the people I've been talking to, they are all excited, especially the younger ones."

Maschek said he had walked through the neighborhood to ask high school kids if they'd use a skate park — and many of them were ecstatic about the idea, he said.

But Arriola and the committee needed more time to work out the details of how to pay for — and where to put — a 7,000-square-foot skate park.

Arriola said after the park district quoted the project, he shopped around, calling up California-based Spohn Ranch.

The company employs five teams of builders — who also happen to be skaters — to construct skate parks all over the country, said Vince Onel, a Spohn Ranch designer and developer.

He said a neighborhood park like what Arriola wants to build would cost about $250,000, similar to the cost of the skate park the company built at Piotrowski Park in the city's Little Village neighborhood.

Onel, who grew up in the Midwest, said his company had been working to promote skating in Illinois and surrounding states in an effort to make it part of Midwest culture like on the West Coast.

In urban areas, he said, some people view skateboarding as a magnet for gang activity and drugs.

"It’s kind of nerdy," said 26-year-old Onel, "but we’re preaching about skateboarding and the positive. They’re vibrant community places and they keep kids out of trouble — and keep kids off the couch."

Onel said he provided Arriola with park designs and offered advice on where it'd be best to build.

Pottawattomie Park came up as a possible location, Arriola said.

"It’s a really nice way to get a diverse group into the park," said Cammie McLeod, the president of the park's advisory council. "It’s becoming more acceptable for kids and families" to skateboard.

She said Arriola presented his plans and the council voted unanimously to support a skate park that would border the Metra railroad tracks and the dog park.

McLeod said that when she lived in Uptown, the skate park at Wilson Avenue and Lake Shore Drive — the closest of the city's five skate parks to Rogers Park — "was really beneficial" to the community.

Arriola said he plans to apply for a grant of up to $25,000 through the Tony Hawk Foundation to help pay for the park. And he hopes to drum up even more support by forming a neighborhood skateboarding league.

"I'd like to keep Rogers Park interesting and keep it as a focal point" for other people in the city, he said. "Rogers Park's cool as it is, but there's so much more that could be done."