Skateboarders, police try to establish order at Bradenton Riverwalk's skate park

nwilliams@bradenton.comDecember 12, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Riverwalk, Bradenton's multimillion dollar riverfront destination, has brought positive attention to Bradenton's downtown area.

Requests are pouring in to hold events there and the most recent Bradenton Blues Festival at Riverwalk attracted more than 3,000 music fans, officials have said.

The last thing the city wants is a black eye on its newest cash machine.

To uphold its image as a family destination, the Bradenton Police Department has been monitoring the skate park at Riverwalk due to a few instances of nonrecreational visitors using the area as a hangout spot at night. Officials said the park had to be closed on more than one occasion to disperse crowds of all ages and a few juveniles were taken into custody.

"They seem to be the ones causing most of the problems," said Bradenton Police Deputy Chief Keith Davis. "Once we've closed the park, the skateboarders and guys on bikes are the ones cleaning up and have been polite to us."

Zech Miller, a skater and student at State College of Florida, said something needs to be done.

"Not to be stereotypical, but they don't care," he said. "They sit right here in the middle of the park in a group."

Miller said he's witnessed fights and a person being Tasered by police. He said the city could build a fence around the skate park, but it would destroy the atmosphere.

"Eventually, they'll start charging and that will ruin it for everybody," Miller said.

For years, Geza Darrah, a local skater and artist, worked with city officials to have a skate park built at Riverwalk. He doesn't want the actions of a small group to poorly reflect the skateboarding community.

"We're doing what we can to distance ourselves and work with the police," he said. "It's not the skaters causing problems."

Darrah said a sign promoting skate park etiquette should also be posted.

"We're internally trying to police ourselves," he said.

At the Downtown Development Authority meeting Tuesday morning at Bradenton's City Hall, Dave Gustafson, executive director of the DDA, said the authority is exploring installing cameras at Riverwalk. Gustafson said preliminary estimates showed it would cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, but a recent bid proposal offered a price of $39,000. The subject will be discussed more at the DDA's January workshop.

Davis also said there have also been talks of adding call boxes on the Riverwalk.

"It's something we're looking at in the near future to make the park more safe," he said.

Bradenton Police will increase the number of officers patrolling Riverwalk with Christmas break approaching, Davis said.

"We used to have an officer down there 24-7 back in the day," he said. "Now we're not experiencing that as much. When you have people around, people consider them as witnesses."

Davis said the skate park has benefited both skateboarders and police.

"We were finding them in the financial and business parking lots in the early morning and they were marking up the street," he said. "Finally, they have a place to go, and it's unfortunate you have some who want to go for the wrong reasons."

Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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