ATLANTIC CITY — A makeshift skate park used by locals for years was torn apart early Wednesday because it was a liability for the city, but residents and officials are pushing for a better facility to take its place.
The pop-up park, built on a city-owned former roller rink on Sovereign Avenue, was created without city permission and was not insured, officials said.
But residents Jason Klotz, a 28-year-old who began building the park in 2015, and Tom Forkin, 54, met with Mayor Don Guardian for an hour Thursday to discuss a city-sanctioned skate park.
Klotz said he already has a builder in mind and raised $3,600 in a week on a GoFundMe page.
“We’re working to create a new park there with permanent structures and do it legitimately and legally now that the awareness has been raised,” Klotz said.
Guardian said he supported building a new skate park and said Klotz would eventually present a design to City Council’s Planning & Development Committee.
“From a positive note, you have an empty canvas now,” Guardian said. “Obviously kids want to skateboard, and having Jason here, let’s build a park so kids can skateboard in a safe area.”
There was a dispute over who ordered the park’s demolition. Guardian blamed the state, while Councilman Frank Gilliam, who was at the almost-empty lot Thursday, said the city administration was responsible.
Gilliam, who is challenging Guardian for mayor, said he checked with state overseer Jeffrey Chiesa and Lance Landgraf, director of planning for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. Both said they had no knowledge of the situation, according to Gilliam.
“Guardian told these kids a bold-faced story and hasn’t been truthful,” Gilliam said, calling the tear-down a “troubled situation.”
“Why would anyone in Atlantic City be opposed to recreation?” he added, saying the city is becoming younger and there must be more outlets for public recreation.
Asked about Gilliam’s comments, Guardian said Chiesa may not have known “someone else from his firm made that decision.” He then recounted his record on improving parks, including the soon-to-be renovated Brown’s Park.
“My Public Works director and Public Works team are not going to take any action unless they’re directed to do so,” Guardian said. “I obviously would have never done that.”
But the state Department of Community Affairs said the city “took steps to immediately dismantle the park” after city staff saw “poorly secured cinderblock ramps and rusted metal rails” that were a potential hazard.
“While the State Designee is not directly involved in every single matter of this magnitude impacting Atlantic City, he fully supports both the decision to remove the unauthorized and unsafe skate park and efforts to create a safe and suitable skate park that the residents of Atlantic City can enjoy,” DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said.
Council candidate Jeffree Fauntleroy II said he found out about the park being demolished Wednesday, and that there was rubble from the torn-down ramps near the curb by the bay.
“To create something yourself and then have it torn down, it’s heartbreaking,” Fauntleroy said.
Klotz, though, was positive about the situation.
“Luckily, the mayor and everybody here in City Hall is in full support of skateboarding in Atlantic City and they’re working with me to get a plaza for the city,” he said. “We’re going to do something simple, something good that the kids can all use.”
Councilman Chuen “Jimmy” Cheng, whose 5th Ward includes the park, said the old skate park was dangerous and he supports a new one getting built.
“It will take kids off the streets,” he said.