BRADENTON -- With construction of the $6.2 million Riverwalk project slated to begin in a month, the project’s leaders are facing an outcry over a pivotal feature: the Riverwalk Skate Park.
City council members received several emails over the weekend from adult leaders of Bradenton’s skateboarding community objecting to the choice of Hardcore Shotcrete Skateparks Inc. to build the skate park.
And even though those in charge of Riverwalk committed anew Tuesday to involving the skateboarding community in the construction process, they also made it clear they’re sticking with the decision by general contractor NDC Construction to hire Hardcore as the skate park subcontractor.
“We’re confident with the process,” said Dave Gustafson, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. “We’re not going to exclude individuals, or the skateboard community, from this process. My recommendation is that we stay on this process right now.”
NDC Chief Executive Officer Ron Allen said after Tuesday’s meeting that his company wants to meet with skateboard leaders by Aug. 12, but skateboarders Chris Cantwell and Geza Darrah said they are moving forward with plans for a protest at the Aug. 17 city council meeting.
“Bradenton has a unique opportunity here to be at the forefront of a progressive urban environment,” Darrah said. “We’ve got a shot at being an example for small and big cities all over the country. With such a high-profile project, it doesn’t make sense to look at a contractor that the skateboarding community has always asked not be involved.”
The topic occupied most of Tuesday’s authority meeting and came up shortly before the panel’s approval of the preliminary budget for Riverwalk.
NDC chose Hardcore for the skate park over several other bidders -- including Team Pain, the proclaimed favorite of the local skateboarding community -- because the Missouri-based company’s $290,000 bid included engineering services needed for liability insurance, Allen said.
“My intent and my job is to go through each of the project’s scopes and provide the best cost, the best quality and the best protection for the city,” Allen said. “When I did that, Hardcore came out No. 1.”
Team Pain’s $290,000 bid initially did not include those engineering services, valued at about $10,000, Allen said. The Winter Park-based company did offer informally, after the bidding process, to include the engineering services for no additional charge.
Allen told the authority that wasn’t enough to sway NDC’s decision. “It makes us a little uncomfortable,” he said. “They already had the opportunity to get the job for $10,000 less and chose not to.”
Cantwell and Darrah said they first asked NDC in May not to consider Hardcore.
The two said the company’s owner, American Ramp Co., has a bad reputation among skateboarders for building municipal skate parks that weather poorly and require extra maintenance.
They’re concerned that serious skateboarders, and the high-profile events they can generate, will be driven away by the Bradenton park’s association with American Ramp Co.
Darrah cited several websites formed specifically to warn against American Ramp Co., and also sent city council members links to stories about cities who have had issues with the company.
“(The park) is not going to give the business draw that they’re expecting,” Darrah said. “It’s not going to meet the needs of the end user, which is the skateboarding community.”
Cantwell said more than 200 local skateboard enthusiasts have expressed support for Team Pain as the subcontractor.
But Allen said his staff members had spoken with several cities who expressed satisfaction with Hardcore. A spokesperson for Hardcore denied that Hardcore was owned by American Ramp Co., although Missouri’s division of corporations lists American Ramp Co. as the company’s owner.
Tyler Woods, skate park specialist for Hardcore, also questioned whether the negative comments about the company are generated by competitors.
“We’re more than confident in our ability to build a great park, as is the general contractor and the city of Bradenton,” Woods said, emphasizing that Hardcore is currently involved in four major skate park projects nationwide, including a million-dollar project in Travis County, Texas.
The concerns expressed by Cantwell and Darrah have caught the attention of at least three city council members.
Bemis Smith appeared before the authority Tuesday to share his concerns and said he’d like to see a public hearing where the skateboard community could air its concerns.
“I wish that I and the skate community had been included in more of the final decision-making,” he said.
Patrick Roff and Harold Byrd both said late Tuesday they plan to keep an eye on the situation and want to be sure the skateboarding community will be making use of the skate park.
“We’re not supposed to be micromanagers of our boards,” Roff said. “I don’t like to second-guess them. But every once in a while, if something comes up and it’s a question, and we’re talking about taxpayers’ dollars, then it’s my job.
“If we’re going to build a skateboard park that’s not going to be utilized by the skateboarders, that’s useless to me.”
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.