Future skate park site to remain at the MARC
Following three months of discussion consisting of several meetings, on Wednesday, Sept. 5, the Merrill Parks and Recreation Commission ruled unanimously to select the MARC as the future home for a municipal skate park.
At their October meeting last Wednesday evening however, the commission considered possibly reversing that decision.
Over the summer, the Mayor’s Special Skate Park Special Committee had discussed viable sites for a prospective new skate park in the city, including Streeter Square, the MARC, Ott’s Park and the Merrill Festival Grounds, with hopes of replacing or complementing the aging current park near Prairie River Middle School.
Aside from the weathered condition of the existing park, many have cited safety concerns due to heavy traffic on West First Street.
As a result of those meetings, the committee ultimately narrowed down their top 3 site choices with Streeter Square topping the list, followed by the MARC and Ott’s Park.
During the September 5 meeting, Streeter Square garnered minimal support both from those in attendance and commission members.
While a resident of the Streeter Square area voiced concerns with noise and issues due to the age bracket of skate park users, commission member and Sixth District Alderman Dave Sukow also spoke in opposition to the Streeter Square location. Sukow cited financial concerns related to the installation of restrooms at Streeter Sqaure as opposed to the restrooms already in place at the MARC.
“If we are going to put a skate park here, I would suggest we need a bathroom sooner than later. In the last three years, the city approved new bathrooms at Normal Park and Stange’s Park. Now we would be looking at another $225-250,000 for restrooms at Streeter Square on top of other construction costs, As an alderman that would be my concern; we already have bathrooms at the MARC.”
Wednesday evening, the matter was brought back to discussion by commission member Kate Baker in the form of a motion for it to be referred to a public hearing.
Baker previously voted in support of the MARC being the preferred site.
“I’d like to request to re-open the discussion of the skate park location,” Baker said.
“I’m not suggesting we move the location to Streeter Square, or lock it down between the MARC and Streeter Square. I’m just suggesting we open the channel to give everyone a chance to speak on locations. I don’t think we have fully considered every opinion or every piece of feedback. There is a lot of great feedback about having it at the MARC and I can see the positives about having it at Streeter Square.”
Baker indicated bringing the matter back to the committee based on concerns voiced by community member Brenda Mamer, who had also contacted other commission members. Baker also voiced her opinion of residents being ‘bamboozled’ during the numerous meetings and discussions preceding the decision to focus on the MARC as a future skate park site. Baker stated residents who opposed Streeter Square were allowed opportunities to voice their concerns, but residents who opposed the MARC had not been given the same opportunities and may feel intimidated.
“I’m hoping we can open this back up for a pubic hearing. If we make the decision to have it at the MARC, I’m totally for that. A decision is a decision. I feel it is our public duty to open it up to the public to give everyone a chance to speak,” Baker added.
“I don’t think this is necessary,” stated commission member Kyle Gulke during discussion. “I feel we have given most people ample opportunity to come express themselves. We have had for or five committee meetings and multiple park and rec committee meetings now. I’d like to keep moving forward and progress,”
Baker again referenced residents being bamboozled.
“A lot of people work around this time. We have had opportunities, but why would people miss work when they are OK with the decision that’s going to be made. Then here we go and bamboozle them”
“Personally I take offense to the term ‘bamboozled” added commission chair Mike Willlman. “We have had numerous meetings in regards to the skate park location. The results of the special committee wanted Streeter Square, but from my understanding and reading of the minutes; the MARC was a strong second. I’m opposed to a public hearing, if people are intimidated by coming to a Park and Rec Commission meeting, I can tell you a public hearing is much more intimidating. From what I have heard is neighbors don’t want it at Streeter Square. The MARC has strong points for the location of a skate park and the kids will get out there. We want to see the skate park grow. If it were to be located at Streeter Square, it would be a very basic size and would be a pretty significant cost to get that site into the condition for a skate park.”
Baker’s motion was ultimately defeated 3-1, Gulke abstaining.