Putting the brakes on Downtown skateboarding

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May 21, 2002 // UPDATED 1:20 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

Amid chipped granite, scraped paint and worries over safety,

property managers are fighting back with remedies of their own

Throughout Downtown, the battle wounds are evident. Black waxy skid marks scar ledges or benches. The paint has been wiped clean from handrails. And once-smooth granite has been rendered bumpy with chips and gashes.

Downtown property managers say this wear and tear is not normal. They blame the skateboarders.

Skateboarders use benches, handrails, stairs and ramps for grinding, gliding, jumping, flipping and other skating moves.

Property managers say the skateboarders' antics are getting expensive. "We have some columns out there, and they scrape the paint off that too," said Susan Clouser, area manager for REIT Management and Research, which manages the Towle Building, 330 2nd Ave. S. "Last year we spent about $8,000. That was just to paint the columns."

For the most part, skateboarders know that it's illegal to skateboard on private property and that there's a city ordinance against skating on government property [see sidebar, page 6].

However, one says some of the property managers' complaints are "kind of lame."

"I have no right [to skateboard on private property] of course," said 20-year-old skateboarder Mike Munzenrider. "But some places, you do no damage. Other places -- the ledges get chipped up, but it takes about 15 years to do some serious damage."

Skateboarding-related property damage has not led to injuries -- at least among non-skateboarders -- police and building managers said. However, some worry about pedestrian safety.

Clouser said pedestrians are in danger because the Towle Building's entrance is elevated, putting skateboarders are at head level of people on the sidewalk. "So if some pedestrian would be walking along they could get hit right in the head with a skateboard," Clouser said.

Policing not effective

To curb the property damage, security guards chase skateboarders off or call the cops, who issue tickets if they catch them. According to Downtown Command crime prevention specialist Luther Krueger, police enforcement isn't always effective.

"Ordinarily just a skateboarding tag isn't going to deter them," Krueger said. "We pull around the corner and if the skateboarder sees us, they stop pick up their skateboard and start walking and there's nothing we can do. We have to witness them in the act before we can tag them for the skateboarding."

The police target minor offenses that can lead to Part One crimes (generally the most serious crimes). Krueger said skateboarding isn't a "gateway" crime.

"If we can reduce the amount of narcotics activity and the amount of drug dealing areas in the city, we can reduce Part One crimes," Krueger said. "We can't do that with skateboarding."

Misdemeanor tickets often don't discourage skateboarders anyway. Munzenrider has received five tickets that run about $50 each, but he'll still go Downtown to skate. "They aren't really a deterrent. It seems like the police presence has kind of gone away Downtown," he said.

Younger skateboarders, however, do worry about enforcement. "I've been Downtown twice, and we got kicked out of nine places in three hours," said Nate Jungers, 15, of Brooklyn Center. "I'm most worried about getting my board taken away."

Skatestopping

Because police enforcement isn't always consistent, some property managers are fighting back with an invention called Skatestoppers.

Skatestoppers are strips of metal or plastic that wrap around just about anything that a skateboarder might want to skate on.

"The kids are actually out preparing their surfaces, in many cases waxing the edges. They're looking for smooth edges," said Chris Loarie, founder and president of San Diego-based Intellicept, Skatestoppers' parent company. "We're creating a surface that's unattractive for grinding" -- sliding on a surface with the skateboard's axel.

Loarie touts his invention as property insurance; a single Skatestopper, with adhesive and an anchor, will cost between $3 and $15.

In one Los Angeles County building, Loarie said, "they're spending close to $20,000 just in the granite to replace the broken granite. That doesn't include the labor. Skatestoppers could have cost about $2,000 with about 150 pieces."

Skatestoppers aren't widespread in Minneapolis yet, but some building managers are using them.

Marquette Plaza, 250 Marquette Ave., the former Federal Reserve Bank, once featured a concrete public plaza that was a skateboarder's paradise. The plaza has morphed to grass -- in part to render it less skateable. Still, property managers aren't taking any chances.

Metal strips break up the smooth surface of concrete benches. "Skateboarding here has certainly become much less desirable than it used to be," said Kat Bramhall, a Marquette Plaza official.

Soon the Towle Building will install Skatestoppers on the handrails of their chipped plaza.

A skate park a better deterrent?

Because the "knobs" -- as skateboarders call them -- are not widespread here, anti-Skatestoppers sentiment seems to be mild.

"They're pretty limited," said skateboarder Keith Masanz. "Some of the stuff they're putting it on is not worth it."

Said Munzenrider, "Skatestoppers pretty much haven't caught on here. In Southern California it's everywhere, even on things you'd never be able to skate on. It will probably pick up here."

And skateboarder Dan (who did not give his last name) said, "They're an eyesore. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Why can't the people who are putting up Skatestoppers contribute to a skate park instead?"

Skate parks geared toward skateboarders, inline skaters and BMX bikers are popping up in the suburbs. However, Minneapolis has just one privately owned skate park: 3rd Lair, 1201 E. Lake St. Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) would like to see more.

One of Zerby's most-publicized campaign promises last fall was to get a public skate park in the city -- a promise originally made to his grandson.

"It's going to happen, but the question is when and where," Zerby said. "As far as Downtown goes, it seems that it would be safer for everybody including the skateboarders to have a place for them to do it instead of picking up a railing here or stairs there."

Many riders don't think a skate park will deter "outlaw" skateboarding Downtown or elsewhere.

Munzenrider said that he has been to the public skate parks in the suburbs and "they're pretty crummy." For liability reasons, public skate parks usually feature ramps are no more than six feet in height.

There may be hope for beleaguered property managers, though. Muller thinks that as skateboarding becomes more of a main-line sport, more kids will use the skate parks rather than Downtown. "I think you're going to have more clean-cut, athletically-inclined kids who are going know that it's against the law to go Downtown and ruin public and private property," Muller said. "It's not going to be perfect, though."

Munzenrider said a park with ramps lower than six feet could hold his attention for a while if builders include different elements, such as benches instead of just ramps. However, Munzenrider admitted that Downtown would still draw him and most skateboarders back. "Skateboarders tend to get bored," he said. "Downtown there's a lot of stuff to skate on."