Avon searches for best site for future ‘skate plaza’ | VailDaily.com

Avon searches for best site for future ‘skate plaza’

Avon Skate Coalition eyes Old Fire Station location, but some council members remained unconvinced

Members of the Avon Skate Coalition joined the Avon Town Council on Tuesday, April 11 to share their pitch to bring a skate plaza to the Old Fire Station site in town.
Screenshot, High Five Media

Amid conversations about what to do along its pedestrian mall and with its recreation center — the area currently branded as La Zona — the town of Avon heard a pitch to put a “skate plaza” where the Old Fire Station currently sits.

Brought forth by the Avon Skate Coalition and Lee Dubin, a University of Colorado Denver student, the pitch is part of an ongoing effort to find space in the town for a skatepark.

Avon Skate Coalition came together in 2021 with a petition and Facebook group dedicated to the idea. As the idea gained traction and support from the local skate community, the Education Foundation of Eagle County came on as a fiscal agent when it received a $25,000 planning grant from the Colorado Health Foundation.

This grant kicked off an “equitable community design process” that is still ongoing, but which engaged various community members in the planning and design of such a park. The grant also opens up the opportunity for the coalition to receive a second round of funding up to $700,000 from the Colorado Health Foundation.

The grant and growth of the coalition also coincided with Dubin’s capstone project. Dubin is a senior at the University of Colorado Denver’s master’s program for urban and regional planning. However, even with this progress, the group has lacked one major thing: a site for the skatepark.

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351 Benchmark

The town of Avon has heard many pitches for what to put in place of the old fire station at 351 Benchmark. The latest pitch is for a skate plaza.
Ali Longwell/Vail Daily archive

In presenting this capstone project and a coalition presentation to the council on Tuesday, Dubin offered that after evaluating a few sites in Avon, the Old Fire Station, at 351 Benchmark next to the Avon Public Library, had been identified.

“The conversation that we were having in the room, with this coalition, is that they want a space for the whole community,” Dubin said. “It was more important to prioritize a place that would be for everybody, a place where non-skaters could come and watch people skate and maybe learn how to skate, and be very progression oriented than it was important to have the biggest footprint possible.”

With these considerations, “the Old Fire Station came ahead every time, no matter how we were quantifying it,” Dubin added.

In Dubin’s presentation on Tuesday, the idea for a “skate plaza” — rather than a traditional skatepark — was introduced.

“We’re talking about a skate plaza,” Dubin said. “We’re talking about a plaza that is for the entire community, including skateboarders in that space, whereas they’re normally excluded from public plazas.”

While the idea is that the space would still have 16,000 square feet of skateable space, it would also create connections to the nearby rec center, pedestrian mall, and Nottingham Park, as well as a gathering space for non-skaters.

“It would just be a really great catalytic project to really kickstart this La Zona, working from your recreational side, because it is so popular,” Dubin said. “Starting over there, building out the end of the pedestrian mall and creating that connection for people, giving them a place to go, giving the skaters a place to go, would just really be the push that I think La Zona could really use.”

Avon Town Planner Max Morgan said that a “skate plaza with community-oriented space” has a lot of potential to meet a lot of the community gathering and cultural needs in the town.

“With the right design and the right direction, a community space with skateable features is really an asset to the community as a whole, not just skateboarders,” Morgan added.

Dubin addressed several previous concerns that have come up through the initial planning process, including discussions with the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

One of the primary concerns was sound, particularly given the proximity of the Old Fire Station site to the library. Dubin presented sound studies, highlighting that “the actual sounds of the board and skateboarding is coming in at 65 decibels, which is right in the middle of a lot of conversational speech, of noisy restaurants, passing trucks and other sounds that you have in communities.”

“There’s definitely opportunities to mitigate any conflicts or concerns in terms of the library specifically and the skatepark,” Dubin added. “But, in terms of the overall noise, we have the park right there, it’s already a recreational area and I don’t think it would add any significant noise levels beyond what you’re seeing.”

Town Manager Eric Heil later noted that in a meeting with the library representatives about possibilities for the space next door, “they expressly told us that they thought a skatepark was a very nice complimentary use.”

The need for a skatepark

Another question and concern raised was the demand for this type of amenity in Avon, which was answered, somewhat implicitly by the large crowd that Tuesday’s presentation drew.

“This space is so much more for our community than an active physical space,” said Amy Lewis, representing both the Education Foundation of Eagle County and the skate coalition. “Our kids, our town, we need places to connect and this is a place where we can connect.”

Lewis added that the space was important both for “mental health and connection for our community.”

This was echoed by a local Eagle Valley High School senior Christy San Diego, who said that the community lacks youth “opportunities to connect and be with each other.”

“There’s such a big issue with especially substances with our youth and substance abuse, and I think if we have more opportunities for our youth to connect together, outside, in a space that’s not encouraging substance, I think it could do a lot for us,” San Diego said.

Highest and best use?

However, even with this support, there was advocacy from a few other community members about whether this was the best use of the site. Previously, the council has heard or considered pitches for using the site for both housing and as a community center. On Tuesday, one community member pitched the idea of an art center, and another the idea of a food hall.

Currently, the site is being used for public works storage, mainly for the town’s snowplows. On Tuesday, the council gave the go-ahead to town staff to continue planning for the construction of a possible five-bay storage garage at Swift Gulch, located north of Interstate 70 and adjacent to the Avon Regional Transit Facility and Fleet Maintenance Building. The town had previously been considering Swift Gulch for housing but is moving forward with instead designing housing on Lot 5, a site just east of Home Depot, to support not only cost savings but the potential for increased density and enhanced livability.

While the majority of the council supported the coalition’s pitch for the skate plaza or skatepark at this site, concerns raised by Council members Lindsay Hardy and Chico Thuon about the process led the council to delay making a final decision about the site and skatepark.

Hardy said that while she supported finding a space for the skatepark in Avon, she worried that a skatepark was not the “highest and best use for the old fire station.”

“With the skatepark, this particular site has had one meeting about it with council. I just worry we could be rushing something and I would appreciate it being more thought out,” Hardy said. “I want to make sure we’re moving with caution and complete consideration.”

Thuon said that even though he agreed with the idea of a skatepark — noting that “we need to do something for the kids” — he added that the “old fire station is our most valuable asset in town, we have to be very careful with what we do there.”

Thuon expressed support for an arts center or something similar at the old fire station, something that would bring “some culture to our main street.”

“I’m not sure that skateboarding is the culture we want to be known for as our main street, although I love skateboarding … I think we want to create something there that has a little bit more of an arts culture, of a higher-end culture, some nice-ness to it,” Thuon said.

Tuesday’s conversation about the skatepark was part of a larger discussion about the future of the town’s pedestrian mall, park, rec center and subsequent parking. Council was presented with various options on each following a long community process and initial design process for La Zona, this “key community corridor” that stretches from Possibilities Plaza on the east side of town to Nottingham Park on the west side.

Ultimately, the council gave direction for the town to continue planning and designing for future pedestrian mall improvements and connections, rec center expansion and renovation as well as a possible parking structure — with cost estimates around each.

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