By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
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To find out if the complaints against the skate park's location are valid, New Times tagged along with Levy, Stack, and Hurtado to Bethune Point, then Lawnwood Skate Park in Fort Pierce, and finally an empty swimming pool in Pompano Beach. Along the journey, we tracked the evolution of South Florida's skateboarding subculture and learned why a skate park tucked between a historic cemetery and Jewish temple wouldn't hurt anyone.
Levy sits yoga-style on his skateboard while taking a break from his Bethune Point run. He has swapped the helmet for a black mesh baseball cap that squishes his floppy, curly locks. "When I got to Miami, I was surprised that there were no real skate parks like this one here in Daytona," he says. "It sucks that we have to travel more than 200 miles to find one. Miami-Dade County has built three parks that are just awful and falling apart. The only skate parks that can last for a long time are poured-in-place concrete skate parks."
An upbeat Washington, D.C. Jewish kid with undergraduate degrees in entrepreneurship and religion, Levy stepped on his first board when he was 3 years old. "I would push around on it," he recalls, "and I was never able to stop after that." His skateboarding idols include Steve Caballero, an original member of skateboard company Powell-Peralta Bones Brigade; and Omar Hassan, one of the world's best bowl skaters and a regular X Games contestant.
Levy and his friends would ride their boards and public transit 20 miles to a popular skate park in Woodbridge, Virginia. When he was 13, the town closed the park, prompting skaters in the nation's capital to push local officials to build them a new public spot for miniramps, half-pipes, bowls, and street courses. "I helped on every aspect of the project, from fundraising to working with the local government," Levy recalls. "I learned how to find the best possible sites for a skate park, which are usually in urban, dense neighborhoods. And I learned how to deal with politics and the not-in-my-back-yard crowd."
By the time he graduated from D.C.'s Winston Churchill High School in 2006, Levy was involved in establishing free public skate parks in Arlington and Baltimore. He spent the summer in Israel, where he volunteered his input on skate park developments in Tel Aviv and Zichron Ya'akov, a town founded in 1982 by 100 Jewish Romanians. Levy notes his idol Hassan attended the grand opening of the Zichron Ya'akov skate park, which is coincidentally next to a synagogue. "I was so stoked," Levy recollects. "Here we had opened a skate park that welcomed everybody — Jews and Muslims included — in one of the most messed-up places in the world."
In fall 2006, Levy arrived in Coral Gables to attend the University of Miami. "With the great weather, I figured Miami was the perfect place for a skater to go to college," he says. "I was surprised to find out that this big metropolitan city didn't have a free skate park like the ones I skated back home."
One day during his sophomore year in 2007, he knocked on the office door of Lansing McLoskey, a 46-year-old music professor and pool skater, and asked him to be the skateboard club's faculty adviser. "From the moment I met him, I could see his ambition and his organizational skills," McLoskey says of Levy. "He is evangelical about skateboarding. He talked about building a ramp on campus and selling skateboard decks with the university's logo in the bookstores, which he ended up doing."
A year later, McLoskey learned via his neighbor, a Miami Park and Recreation employee, that the Omni CRA had allocated $1 million toward a $2.2 million plan to redevelop Biscayne Park, where today soccer aficionados play pick-up games on the weekend. The plan features a 16,000- to 24,000-square-foot skate park that would use about $700,000 of the total budget. The balance would bankroll new bathrooms, a park administration office, landscaping, fencing, parking, and lighting.
McLoskey informed Levy about the plan. The youngster acted quickly, contacting the park employee heading the project, Ralph Gonzalez; and city Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who as the Omni CRA chairman fully supported the skate park idea. In 2008, Sarnoff tapped Levy to serve on a park committee to study the skate facility's configuration and on a bid selection committee tasked with choosing a contractor to build the park. "I am not tied to any design companies," Levy says. "One reason I got involved is to make sure the city builds the best possible skate park."
But some of the folks opposing the skate park's location question the skateboarding ingenue's seemingly innocent intentions. Temple Israel's past president Stanley Tate, a wealthy real estate developer who started a college scholarship program for underprivileged kids, accuses Levy of having a conflict of interest because he owns two properties one block west of Biscayne Park. According to Miami-Dade County property records, Levy purchased a three-bedroom duplex at 67 NE 19th St. for $100,000 in July 2009. Seven months later, he bought a two-bedroom house at 85 NE 19th St. for $70,000.
Tate says he met Levy one time at the office of downtown Miami capital fund manager Peter Bermont, another synagogue member with clout. "This young skater was pretty cocky about his role with Sarnoff," Tate claims. "He said he had bought the two vacant houses and that he was going to build a facility to sell skateboards and accessories. I was shocked."