BRADENTON -- If the Riverwalk is the crown jewel of Bradenton, its skate park is considered by many to be the park's shiniest gem, but that gem is losing a bit of luster as cracks have appeared in the concrete.
At the park's easternmost edge is what skaters call the "bowl." Built almost like a pool, its deep end is surrounded by high walls, allowing skaters opportunities for thrilling, vertical, speed-related tricks. It's the walls of the bowl that are giving the city concerns, with elongated cracking that is allowing moisture to penetrate the concrete, which could cause further issues.
Public Works Director Claude Tankersley said cracking in concrete is not abnormal. It's something to be expected as settling occurs. But the majority of the cracking is especially centered around the bowl walls, causing enough of a concern that Tankersley believes action is needed.
The problem, he said, is that the bowl sits up at the park's highest man-made point on the eastern edge. While the surrounding slopes were once landscaped like other areas of Riverwalk, they are now devoid of vegetation.
"What we didn't anticipate when we landscaped these slopes was that people would be walking up them to get to the bowl," said Tankersley.
The result of the foot traffic is dead vegetation and nothing to hold what is already-poor soil in place, something critical to supporting the concrete walls underground.
At less than three years old and considered to be the heaviest-used area of Riverwalk, Tankersley said he will approach the city council for $80,000 in impact fees to extend the outer concrete pad and to expand the north concrete terrace to the south to help provide for better stability.
Impact fees are paid by new developments throughout the city.
"There's no way to prove what exactly is causing this problem," said Tankersley. "It could very well be natural settling, but our best guess is that is not the case because of the amount of cracking specific to the bowl. This park has been called the gemstone of Riverwalk as a whole. It's highly used, not only by teen skaters, but adult skaters and non-skaters who just want to watch the skaters."
Tankersley said he will try to secure the funding to be proactive in protecting the skate park from further damage.
"It's not a liability issue right now, but it is a maintenance issue," he said, noting that if the cracking gets worse, so will the costs of trying to get it repaired.
City Clerk Carl Callahan said impact fees would likely be the source of funding. While they can't be used for direct repairs of a park amenity, it can be used for redevelopment of an existing park.
"Looking at what needs to be done there with extending the concrete and building a new concrete terrace, impact fees would qualify," said Callahan. "I want to look at all the available options and make sure that before it's brought before the city council, that I have the best recommendation available."
Callahan said if the city council approves the project, it won't have to wait until the next budget cycle.
"There are funds available to do this, and I expect this will come before council in the next month or so," he said.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.