GULFPORT -- Skateboarders without a place to enjoy their sport have built their own skate park downtown, but now that the property is for sale, their supporters have joined forces with elected officials to find a permanent home.
Supporters of a public skate park also have reached out to the national Tony Hawk Foundation. Tony Hawk is the Michael Jordan of skateboarding, said Gulfport Councilman Myles Sharp, who is helping find the skaters a home. With a public park, the skaters would stand a chance of securing a foundation grant of up to $25,000. Competition is stiff, with the foundation most likely to support public parks built in low-income areas.
Sharp believes Westside Park on the beach highway would be an ideal spot for an outdoor skate park.
"It would be there for people to use as they walked up and saw fit to use it," he said.
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Those are the kinds of parks the Tony Hawk Foundation supports, according to its website. Sharp noted the foundation stipulates the park be on public property. Further, the foundation website says, parks should "be built from concrete by qualified and experienced skate park contractors."
Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rockco said the county might be able to help with materials. Rockco did say liability insurance for a skate park is "very high."
The indoor county skate park, in Rockco's district, closed in 2014 after 15 years in business when the Board of Supervisors opted to lease the building to a film production company.
Meanwhile, Gulfport's downtown slab has grown in popularity. On the slab, skateboarders built their own ramps, rails and other features. They call the concrete slab the DIY, as in Do It Yourself. Skateboarders meet up almost daily to enjoy their sport, with the added feature of a waterfront view, which Westside Park also would provide.
Realtor Claudia Keyes, grandmother of Andrew Buras and a supporter of skateboarding, has the DIY listed for sale, though the Texas owner is OK with the skateboarders using it in the meantime. The 2-acre property, listed at $2 million, is a prime location across from the harbor and within walking distance of city-owned property where a public aquarium is planned.
Keyes said the skaters have taken it upon themselves to keep up the property. They even brought in garbage cans, but they were overflowing with Gatorade bottles and there was nowhere to put the waste.
Keyes called Waste Pro, which not only dumped the cans but put one of its own trash receptacles on the property and agreed to start picking up the waste even though no building is on the property.
"There's 20 kids, I bet you, down there right now," she said Friday afternoon. "It's not an organized support. It's not like going down to the baseball or football field.
"When you go down there and see the camaraderie among these kids, it's incredible."