For the love of Steel Lake skatepark

Federal Way skate shop manager says city underestimates park’s value to the community.

During the autumn months, David Waite arrives at the Steel Lake skatepark with his board and a broom.

Prior to his pre-work skating session, he keeps up on maintenance of the skatepark by sweeping leaves, pine needles and other debris to make it more usable.

Waite, the manager of 35th Avenue Skate & Snow Shop in Federal Way, recently posted an image to the business’s social media sites that says “Help save Steel Lake skatepark.”

The post was prompted by the City of Federal Way’s recent request for engineers and architects for future plans to build a new Parks Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF) on South 312th Street in 2023 and 2024 — and calling for removal of the skatepark, according to city documents.

Waite’s social media posts usually receive about 100-200 likes, but the Aug. 30 post is already topping more than 1,350 likes and dozens of comments.

So far, no plans for the OMF — or the skatepark’s removal — have been set in stone, city officials said. But the social media post’s engagement is indicative of the dedicated skating community in Federal Way.

Or in Waite’s words, the “diehard” skating community.

When Waite caught wind of the city’s study and possible plans to turn the skatepark into a parking lot, he said he was in disbelief.

“It just feels like the skatepark is a burden, not an asset to them,” he said. “It’s really upsetting because it can provide a lot of good for the city and the community.”

The park sits at 2645 S. 312th St. and is home to several obstacles, a quarter pipe, ramps, a stairset, and more for board enthusiasts to enjoy. Often, skaters will visit several skateparks along the I-5 corridor and make the most of what each city has to offer.

City officials have previously said the skatepark was underutilized. Waite disagrees.

“I dont think someone who doesn’t skateboard is really in the position to make a statement about utilization of a space they don’t understand,” said Waite, who has been skating for 32 years.

The expectation of a bustling space, similar to the nearby soccer fields, is unrealistic because the sport of skateboarding attracts a different usage. It could mean enjoying 45 minutes before work at 9 a.m., or it could mean flocks of kids visiting after school (in pre-pandemic times).

Usage doesn’t mean someone is going to spend the whole day there, Waite said, and the park doesn’t need to be inundated with people at all times.

“The usage is ebb and flow,” he said. “It just feels like the skatepark is a burden, not an asset to them … I don’t know if the city understands what an asset the skatepark is for their community.”

At the skatepark, participants come from all ethnic backgrounds, a wide range of ages, and a variety of skills levels, he said — all of which is put to the side for people to enjoy their sport of choice at the skatepark, whether it is skateboarding, roller skating, or another wheeled transportation.

“I don’t know if the city has embraced that or given it much thought of how that space can be utilized,” said Waite, adding that the city could be more involved by partnering with the local skate business for regular events, or even providing upgrades to the park.

Waite uses the park regularly and has noticed the lack of regular maintenance on the city-owned park. Many areas of the park have chipped cement and weathered paint. A large crack in one corner of the park creates a drainage leak river through the park every winter, he said.

In the past four or five years, Waite said he’s emailed the city a handful of times with no response.

Located at 28717 Pacific Highway S., 35th Avenue skate shop is roughly 10 minutes from the skatepark — yet, Waite said, no one from the city ever came to the shop to discuss the possibility of demolishing the park.

“A parking lot replacing a healthy public space just seems like terrible planning,” he said.

Over the years, 35th Avenue has held small community demo events, fundraisers, local contests and barbecues for the skateboarding community at the park.

Without the park, Waite said kids lose a meetup spot and the ability to enjoy a low-cost sport with no strict schedule, compared to other club or team sports.

By passing up on opportunities to engage with the skating community and instead weighing the possibility of taking away the community asset, “it shows me that Federal Way is not really trying to invest in their youth or their community,” Waite said. “That’s the most frustrating part.”

Maintenance facility proposal

Federal Way’s current maintenance facility is located at 31130 28th Ave. S. and sits on a 4.1-acre, two parcel site with a slew of problems being “old, substandard and over capacity for the number of city staff it serves,” Tyler Hemstreet, communications coordinator for the Mayor’s Office, previously told the Mirror.

At the Sept. 1 Federal Way City Council meeting, Public Works Director EJ Walsh reiterated no decisions have been made in the proposal.

“To be clear, no sites have been selected and no construction has been authorized to start,” Walsh said.

So far, city staff prepared a request for proposals sent to engineering, architecture and real estate firms to identify needs and potential locations, he said.

The request for proposals (RFP) sought sizing comparisons of other similarily sized locations. Next steps include creating site selection criteria, searching for potential locations, drafting site layout and developing a feasibility cost estimate of the sites.

While the city is looking at Steel Lake Annex as an option, the city will also be identifying a minimum of three additional possible sites city-wide. Those sites have not yet been identified.

Upon request, the city has received 12 responses from various firms and the council has begun reviewing the options. No firm has been selected by the city yet, however interviews are tentatively scheduled to take place on or after Sept. 15, Walsh said.

After selection, the chosen firm will present a list of sites, the layouts, the cost and more details to the council in early 2021.

Council president Susan Honda said they have received a lot of emails from a lot of very upset and concerned citizens regarding the skatepark.

The skatepark won’t go away right now and “I hope it never goes away,” Honda said. The entire study and making of decisions “won’t be an overnight process.”