Proposed Miami skate park pits skaters against preservationists

Seth Levy is ripping it. The urethane wheels on his skateboard roar as the 23-year-old University of Miami graduate glides from the bottom to the top and back down the smooth concrete bowl carved into Bethune Point Skatepark in Daytona Beach. Shortly after noon October 15, this is the first stop of Levy's daylong road trip thrashing through two concrete skate parks located hundreds of miles north of the Magic City. His long, curly, sandy-blond hair juts out of his protective helmet and bounces with his every twist and turn. Sweat parades down his face and neck, soaking the top of his tie-dyed blue and purple T-shirt.

Levy finishes his run so his friend Robert "Bobby" Stack, a 45-year-old Yoda of the Miami skateboarder scene, can ride the bowl's perfectly curved walls. "Go for it!" Levy shouts. Stack, who rides a Santa Monica Airlines deck made for vertical skating, drops in. As he rolls into the bowl, Stack bends his knees like a seasoned surfer riding a high wave. In less than a minute, he pulls off 11 kick turns without falling off his board. "Yeah!" Levy gushes. "Woooo!"

In another area of the 35,000-square-foot park, Miami-based professional skater Paul Hurtado kick-flips his board over a sculpture called the "broken pyramid," which is part of Bethune Point's street course. The gangly 26-year-old Cadillac enthusiast lands perfectly on the stone floor. "Whoa... that was sick," says one of the half-dozen riders waiting for their shot to leap the pyramid.

For Levy, Stack, and Hurtado, Bethune Point is a luxurious skateboarders' oasis they would love to replicate in the heart of downtown Miami in order to avoid the four-hour, 256-mile trek to Daytona Beach. "The long ride and the 100 bucks in gas take the fun out of coming up here," Stack says. "I don't want to wait until I am 65 years old to see a true skate park get built in Miami."

Though there are no hard statistics to show skateboarding's local appeal, its popularity is undeniable, says Chris Williams, a 37-year-old skater who co-owns M.I.A. Skate Shop in Miami Beach and the indoor M.I.A. Skate Park in Doral, which opened in 2006 and draws 1,500 to 2,000 skaters a month who pay $7 to $10 each. Downtown Miami in particular is a mecca, where for more than two decades South Florida skaters have made the pilgrimage to catch air off the steps and grind on the railings of office and government buildings. "My business partner and I have been skating for 20 years," Williams says. "Miami is the best city to street-skate. Even to this day, kids come from as far as West Palm Beach to skate downtown."

Outdoor skate parks have also opened in Miami Lakes, Country Village, Coconut Grove, Palmetto Bay, and West Kendall. Through their nonprofit company, One Cool World, Levy and Hurtado manage the Grove park, where they estimate 200 to 300 skaters pay the $5 admission to thrash at the outdoor facility on weekends. On a recent Saturday afternoon at the park, a crew of four teenage skaters performs street tricks while another group rides quarter ramps. "We ride the Metrorail from the Martin Luther King station in Liberty City to the Grove station almost every weekend," says Corey Jackson, a 14-year-old thrasher. "I love skating."

Yet Levy insists none of the existing Miami-Dade parks, including the one in Coconut Grove on McFarlane Road, is built to the standards of Bethune Point, which is made of concrete. "The difference is huge," Levy notes. "The Grove park is falling apart. We have to invest at least $10,000 to replace the rotted wood on all our ramps."

Until this past June, it seemed Miami's skateboarding community would finally get its own concrete paradise at Biscayne Park, on NE 19th Street near First Avenue — a seldom-used, ten-acre, city-owned site sandwiched between Temple Israel and the historic City of Miami Cemetery, where city pioneers such as Julia Tuttle and the Burdine family are buried. The project's $2.2 million tab would be covered by the city's Omni Community Redevelopment Agency. But over the past six months, a group of politically influential synagogue members and historic preservationists has impeded the skate park's development through a public relations campaign that plays on the stereotype that skateboarders are hooligans bent on ravaging public and private property, even if it's sacred. "I think it is sacrilegious," says local black historian Enid Pinkney. "The whole skate park idea blatantly disrespects Miami's heritage."

"A skate park doesn't belong next to a historic cemetery," says Penny Lambeth, a Miami Lakes-based publicist and preservationist who has helped restore the burial grounds over the past two decades. "It is the final resting place for Miami's first everything, from the first mayor to the first black lawyer."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.

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