July 29, 2008

Collins Park Hits Snag Over Skate Park

By Tania Valdemoro, The Miami Herald

Jul. 29--If Miami Beach renovates the Carl Fisher Clubhouse and the adjacent Little Stage Theater, should it add a skate plaza to the complex?

That's the question to be answered, after officials from the city's Capital Improvements Program office met with residents and business owners at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden on July 22.

Officials showed preliminary site plans for the Little Stage Theater complex, a two-acre site in Collins Park that would incorporate new outdoor plazas and pavilions with existing theater and clubhouse facilities. The most surprising element: a skate plaza.

The two-acre site is bounded by Dade Boulevard to the north, Washington Avenue to the east and Convention Center Drive to the west.

"I think it's a phenomenal idea to add a skate park there," said Mark Gamez, the owner of Univ, a skateboarding store at 100 Collins Ave. "At this point, we don't have any skate parks in the city at all. It's illegal to skateboard on the streets or sidewalks of Miami Beach."

Gamez said city officials have been bandying about the idea of building a skate park in Miami Beach for the past seven years but have not designed any facilities for them until now. Skaters have found places to practice, but they are not sanctioned spots.

Members of the SoBe Music Institute, on the other hand, would prefer that a skateboarding plaza be built elsewhere.

The institute is a nonprofit group that offers music lessons to children and adults at the Carl Fisher Clubhouse, 2100 Washington Ave. It was founded three years ago by Carson Kievman, a local music composer.

Mark Needle, a member of the institute's board of directors, said the clubhouse, theater and adjacent buildings already have a "campus" feel that would change if a skate plaza entered the mix.

"If they build a skateboard facility, it will become a regional destination for skateboarders," Needle said.

"It would fit in better within other active regional parks, like Flamingo Park and North Shore Open Space Park."

According to site plans from Glavovic Studio, the project's architects, the Little Stage Theater complex will include the existing Little Stage Theater and Carl Fisher Clubhouse, as well as a new parks and recreation pavilion, a new theater pavilion and new plazas.

The existing band shell would be demolished.

The project lacks funding and no timetable has been set for construction, said Olivia Almagro-Johnson, a spokeswoman for the city's Capital Improvement Program. Under one scenario, the complex would span 2.5 acres and cost $5.8 million to build. Under a second scenario, the complex would be a bit smaller, two acres and cost $5.4 million.

Almagro-Johnson said she did not know how or when the dispute over the skate plaza would be resolved. So far, no follow-up community meetings have been scheduled.

"Our goal was to get feedback on the plans," she said. "Some people liked it and others didn't."


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