Citizen Wausau

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Skateboarders Damage Downtown

by on March 31st, 2009

Not long ago, Dino had a post here about a small victory for local skateboarders when a proposal to further limit skateboarding in the downtown was killed in committee by the committee’s chair. Last week I had the opportunity to attend a meeting where many of the participants saw this not as a small victory, but as a significant loss. And in the interest of fair and balanced reporting, I thought it prudent to look at the issue from their point of view.

The meeting was the Public Safety Meeting of Wausau Main Street. Being a property owner/manager in the “Main Street” area, I have made an effort to be at least marginally active.

The Main Street program, which represents downtown Wausau on both sides of the river (yes, downtown extends to the West Side), has a very good working relationship with the Wausau Police Department. One of the Wausau PD officers who I personally think really does a good job, Officer Max LaPorte, is the liaison between the PD and the downtown business owners.

Based on the Public Safety meeting that I attended, it was through these meetings that a proposal to further curb (pun intended) skateboarding in the downtown came about. The reason being the elements that skateboarders brought to downtown. The element is described as loitering juveniles who are rude, use profanity, litter and therefore discourage paying customers from visiting downtown businesses. In addition, in practicing their “street skills,” they cause damage to curbs, railings, planters, benches, etc. The damage to the downtown benches actually warranted a discussion that maybe the benches shouldn’t even be put downtown until the three summer CSOs (Community Service Officers) were on patrol in the downtown.

As I did with the pool issue, it is probably only fair that I make my position clear, as I don’t want people to assume that I come in with no bias whatsoever. I will admit that I have witnessed juveniles in groups “hanging out” and it can, at times, be intimidating. Also, the property that I own on the West Side has low rails protecting the sidewalk from the parking lot (or vice versa) and the painting and maintenance of these rails was a 2-3 time a year project because of damage caused by skateboarders. (I was going to have stops welded every foot or so, but was informed this may lead to potential liability issues – so instead I just chose to stop keeping the rails nice and painted.)

In essence, I fully agree that the act of skateboarding has little use on the downtown sidewalks and pedestrian areas. There is no need to do tricks on public or private property. I do see the validity of skateboarding as a form of transportation, but once you get on the crowded sidewalks of downtown, at some point public safety has to come into play.

Note, that I said that skateboard-ING has little use, and did not comment on skateboard-ERS. There is a difference. Let’s face it, I can sympathize with skateboarders, as I am a landlord. And that minority of people who do this job and do it badly gives all of us a bad name. Therefore, I can understand how a minority of rude skateboarders can give all of them a bad name. However, the more I hear, and the more that I see – first hand – I have to ask myself, are the bad apples truly a minority? Even in the comments from that article here on Citizen Wausau, one skateboarder (I assume) pointed out that running from the police was all a part of the skateboarding experience.

There was a comment at the meeting last week that from year to year, it is never the same group of kids. The age of the kids stays about the same, so each year it is a new batch. That leads me to ask the question, is it because the old batch now knows the rules and respects them and the new batch simply doesn’t know? I asked about maybe communicating with those active in the sport (like Dwellers) about educating boarders about what the downtown regulations are. The response that I got from members of the group was that because Dwellers wasn’t really supportive of the current ordinance, they would not do anything to help educate people on its specifics.

Although I naturally lean more on the side of the business owners, being one myself, I do think that there has to be a happy medium. I pride myself in being a big-picture kind of guy. One of the big problems that downtown Wausau has to deal with is getting people to come downtown, to check out what the downtown has to offer. The fundamental problem with the current skateboarding policies is that many of the people that you are trying to get to come downtown are the SAME PEOPLE who you went out of your way to chase out of downtown 5, 10 or 15 years ago. “Oh sure, NOW you want us back, yeah right!”

There has to be some type of happy middle ground. There has to be some type of way where the younger generation can spend time downtown not being chased out or shown they are so obviously not welcome. At the same time, there has to be a way for the younger generation, while they are downtown, to not cause damage to public or private property or act in a manner that is detrimental to others. There has to be some type of way where each side can see the point of view of the other side and find a way to co-exist.

Because although there is a problem with some younger people being rude and littering and making life hell for local businesses, at the same time if you chase people away from downtown when they are young, it is unrealistic to expect them to return when they have matured into adult consumers.

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