Pigtown skaters lose their room to roll

Officials say swelling numbers forced shutdown

April 12, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The sky-blue street mural that boldly declares SFP -- Skaters From Pigtown -- is now a false advertisement.

Skateboarders can no longer claim the brightly colored corner of James and Ostend streets as their zone because police say their group is too big and poses a safety hazard.

For more than a year, officers winked and waved at the skaters in baggy pants on the corner. But Monday afternoon, an officer told them to collect their ramps and find a new skate haven.

That's a tall task for the skaters, who devotedly hang out on the corner because Baltimore has no skate parks. City officials have said they may put one in nearby Carroll Park, but it wouldn't happen for at least a year. And there's no guarantee it'll be built.

"There's nowhere whatsoever to skateboard. We're stuck with nothing to do," said Jimmy Hoggard, 25, who skates with the kids and helps them build ramps. "Kids are up there after school skateboarding rather than doing who knows what. If it's going to save a few kids, if it will help just a few -- is it that bad?"

Police say the core group of about 25 to 30 kids they frequently see on the corner expanded after a story ran about them in The Sun on Friday, followed the next day by a competition that attracted more than 300 people.

"After the newspaper article, kids showed up from all over the place," said Lt. Jerry Vandermeulen. "One neighbor counted 43 kids milling about Sunday. Our phones were ringing off the hook the past couple of days. ... It's a public safety issue. If we did nothing, we'd end up with a child being run over.

"If they get a skateboard park, maybe that's the answer."

Vandermeulen said he didn't bother the skaters before because he didn't see a reason. But he had to respond when he was flooded with calls. A resident even complained to the mayor's office.

"They're good kids -- it's a shame," he said. "We left them alone for months because there's not much on that street. We've been trying to be nice because they need a place to play. But 40-some kids is unreasonable. And when you get down to it, the whole thing is not in compliance with the law."

So where should they go?

"That's a good question. I can't answer that," said Gennedy Schwartz, who is chief of capital development for the Parks and Recreation Department and is working with the skaters to possibly bring a skate court to Carroll Park. "But I can tell you that it is enormously important to get people of that age to the parks. It's a critical age."

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