By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hilo is inching closer to getting its own skate park.
After three years of tireless fundraising efforts, a group of street surfers and skating enthusiasts have gotten their own dream park on Hawaii County’s list of capital projects.
The designation doesn’t guarantee funding and acts as more of a placeholder for the approximate $3.5 million project.
But organizers say they see it as a significant step in the right direction, and are continuing their talks with the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation as well as other efforts, including seeking nonprofit status, a necessary step to receive grant funding.
“Probably in the last year we have gained a lot of momentum,” said Mealoha Kraus, a member of the Hilo Skatepark Coalition.
The group got started about three years ago by skateboarders such as Jeremy Hale, co-owner of Oasis Skateshop, who noticed a desperate need for a skating facility in Hilo.
They were also joined by members of the Paradise Roller Girls derby league, like Kraus, who saw an opportunity to create a place for skaters of all types.
“It’s been snowballing,” Hale said.
The concept, as organizers note, is more than a place for skaters to pull off tricks.
It also includes a covered roller rink, a jogging trail, a pavilion and barbecue area.
“Our tagline has always been it’s not your typical skate park,” Kraus said.
So far, the group has raised about $15,000 to contribute to the skate park, she said.
The county has set aside land between the Kawamoto Swim Stadium and Walter Victor baseball fields for the 25,000-square-foot proposal.
The Department of Parks and Recreation remains interested in the project and plans to meet with organizers Monday to discuss clearing the parcel to allow for surveying, said Director Clayton Honma.
Honma said he sees the project happening in phases but it still remains unclear if and when funding for construction will be allocated.
“We got to seek more details of their plan before going forward,” he said.
Funding had been too tight in previous years to make any financial contributions, Honma said.
This year might provide some more wiggle room.
For the 2013-2014 budget that begins July 1, the county adopted property tax increases of about 10 percent to generate another $18.8 million.
Still, that money isn’t just for capital projects and the remaining dollars left for construction are expected to be competitive.
Skate park organizers believe their proposal, which includes completed conceptual designs, has a lot to offer.
“There’s so much more to it than just about skating,” said Issa Hilweh.
Though not a skater, Hilweh said he believes the park could provide children and families with another place to go together other than the beach.
“There’s not a lot for kids to do out here,” he said.
Michelle Montgomery, another derby team member who is a part of the coalition, said they intend to keep in contact with council members and county staff to keep the issue in their minds.
“The more support we get … the higher we can get it on their list,” she said.
Kraus said the demand is there.
The group hosts a free skate at Wainaku Gym every Friday and offers gear to new skaters, she said.
They get about 50 participants a week.
“We pretty much have to turn people away because they don’t have enough gear,” Kraus said.
The roller rink could also be used for the derby teams, which lack a rink in Hilo, as well as roller hockey and free skating, organizers say.
“We’d just really love to have a place we can call our home,” Kraus said.
The group’s website is www.hiloskateplaza.com. Donations are accepted through the site.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.