A landmark local DIY skate park faces the wrecking ball in fast-gentrifying Columbus Park

Photo by Chase Castor

Paul Fish knew it wouldn’t last forever. Still, he had a reaction when a giant “For Sale” sign popped up overlooking the lot that’s home to the Harrison Street DIY. 

“My stomach sank a bit,” he says. “But I also knew from the get-go that it might not last forever.”

Fish, age 29, is one of many Kansas City skaters who have put time and money into building one of the city’s signature skateparks by hand, using $70,000 in material—concrete, rebar, lumber, tiling and paint to cover up graffiti.

The DIY park was built on a vacant city-owned lot, and now the Housing Authority is preparing to put out a request for proposals to would-be developers of the land. 

This Harrison Street DIY is a skatepark in Columbus Park built and funded by Kansas City’s skate community starting in 2014.

Ben Hlavacek, a founder of the park and a professional skate park builder, says that to have a park like Harrison Street built professionally would cost at least a half-million dollars. Skaters know it as one of only a few transition-style parks in the area that provide a flowy skate experience as you create a fun line or sequence of obstacles to skate. It’s not strictly skateboarding at the DIY; you’ll see folks on roller skates, scooters and in-line skates as well. The typical crowd covers a wide range in age and experience. The organizers at the park want it to be a welcoming space for all. 

But the skatepark sits on six acres that the Columbus Park Neighborhood Association has waited twenty years to have developed. The neighborhood has big hopes for this land. They want affordable single-family homes built on it and are working with the housing authority to court the right development plan.

Kate Barsotti, president of the Columbus Park Neighborhood Association, says “emotions are all over the place” on the park and future development. “Some people are very attached and will be sad to see it gone, especially if they are skaters themselves,” she says. “Some of the little kids from Guinotte come frequently, and that’s going to be a big loss.”

Photo by Chase Castor

But, she says, others feel the skaters have outgrown the park and it’s time to move on because “that land should have been developed years ago.”

“Most neighbors,” Barsotti says, believe the park “was supposed to be temporary, and they are ready for the next phase.” 

But what happens to the DIY when the land is sold and development starts? Several scenarios could play out. Many in the skate community want the park to stay and development to build around the park, incorporating it into the neighborhood more seamlessly. 

The most dire scenario for the Harrison Street DIY is the destruction of the park with no promise for a replacement, leaving the skate community empty-handed with nothing to show for their years of hard work. 

Some advocates for the park, including Wes Minder, Councilman Eric Bunch, and Burns & McDonnell, have thought up a way to set aside land under the incoming Buck O’Neil bridge for the skate community to start another DIY. They would even provide the materials to build the park but leave construction to the skate community. There are also talks of putting in a professionally built skate park in addition to setting aside space for a DIY skatepark. Nothing is set in stone, though, as the request for proposal hasn’t even been published yet.

“They will have a better location with amenities we cannot provide,” Barsotti says. “The location under the highway is also good for the city because that area could get sketchy without people using it. It will be a more prominent project and hopefully they will take what they have learned from here and make it even better.”Things are still in the very early stages—the land hasn’t been sold, the RFP hasn’t even been sent out for developers—so all the ideas about what will happen with the DIY are speculation and hopes. The Harrison Street skate community (follow them at harrisonstreetdiy.com) is organizing and meeting with the city and housing authority to raise awareness of the park’s importance to the community in hopes that all parties involved can find space for the park in their plans.

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