Iconic local skate park faces wrecking ball in bustling Columbus Park

Paul Fish knew it wouldn’t last forever. Yet he had a reaction when a giant ‘For Sale’ sign popped up overlooking the land that houses the Harrison Street DIY.

“My stomach sank a bit,” he says. “But I also knew from the start that it might not last forever.”

Fish, 29, is one of many Kansas City skateboarders who have invested time and money into building one of the city’s iconic skate parks by hand, using $70,000 worth of materials – concrete, rebar, wood, tile and paint to cover graffiti.

The DIY park was built on vacant land owned by the city, and now the Housing Authority is preparing to launch a request for proposals from potential developers of the land.

This Harrison Street DIY is a skate park in Columbus Park built and funded by the Kansas City skate community beginning in 2014.

Ben Hlavacek, one of the park’s founders and a professional skate park builder, says having a park like Harrison Street professionally built would cost at least half a million dollars. Skaters know it as one of the few transitional-style parks in the area that provide a smooth skating experience as you create a fun line or sequence of obstacles to skate. It’s not strictly DIY skateboarding; you will also see people on roller skates, scooters and inline skates. The typical crowd covers a wide range of age and experience. The organizers of the park want to make it a welcoming space for everyone.

But the skatepark sits on six acres that the Columbus Park Neighborhood Association waited twenty years to develop. The neighborhood has high hopes for this land. They want affordable single-family homes built there and are working with the housing authority to woo the right development plan.

Kate Barsotti, president of the Columbus Park Neighborhood Association, said “emotions are everywhere” about the park and future development. “Some people are very attached and will be sad to see it go, especially if they are skaters themselves,” she says. “Some of Guinotte’s grandchildren come frequently, and it’s going to be a big loss.”

Photo by Chase Beaver

But, she says, others feel the skaters have outgrown the park and it’s time to move on because “this land should have been done years ago.”

“Most of the neighbors,” Barsotti says, think the park “was meant to be temporary, and they’re ready for the next phase.”

But what happens to the DIY when the land is sold and development begins? Several scenarios could play out. Many in the skate community want the park to stay and for development to build around the park, integrating it more seamlessly into the neighborhood.

Harrison Street’s most dire scenario for DIY is the destruction of the park with no promise of a replacement, leaving the skate community empty-handed with nothing to show for its years of hard work.

Some park advocates, including Wes Minder, Councilor Eric Bunch, and Burns & McDonnell, figured out a way to set aside land under the Buck O’Neil Bridge for the skate community to start another DIY. They would even provide the materials to build the park but leave the construction to the skate community. There is also talk of installing a professionally built skate park in addition to setting aside space for a DIY skate park. Nothing is set in stone, as the RFP has not even been released yet.

“They’ll have a better location with amenities that we can’t provide,” Barsotti said. “The location under the freeway is also good for the city because that area could get sketchy without people using it. It will be a bigger project and I hope they take what they learn from it. here and will make it even better for the devs – so any thoughts on what will happen with the tinkering are speculation and hopes The Harrison Street skate community (follow them on harrisonstreetdiy.com) organizes and meets with the city and housing authority to raise awareness of the importance of the park to the community in the hope that all parties involved can find space for the park in their plans.

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