Off Limits

The Vans Westminster Skatepark gets props from Skateboarding magazine in its June issue -- but in a very backhanded way. The article hypes all of metro Denver's great free parks before suggesting a visit to the pay park's competition vert ramp and clover bowl pool, because, you know, Colorado can have "dismal weather from October all the way through April."

Even with three feet of snow burying Denver, our weather's not as dismal as the quarterly report that Vans Inc. filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week. The company's considering closing some of its twelve parks nationwide, because "increased competition from large, free public skateparks has adversely impacted attendance and revenues." Vans lost nearly a million dollars in the last quarter alone on its skate parks.

Corporate PR guy Chris Overholser won't say whether the Vans Westminster facility is gonna get whacked. "There are a lot of free parks in Denver, and it's hard to compete with free," he says. "We have to look at the balance sheet and what's a good return on not just admissions, but also the value we get from having our name out there. We're looking for ways to increase the value proposition." In other words, if you build it and charge a $50 annual membership fee plus $5 to $7 per two-hour session ($11 to $17 if you're not a member), they might not come.

But the park certainly serves a niche: kids whose suburban mommies won't let them hang at the free-for-all parks. "Most of our business tends to be younger kids," says Vans Westminster Skatepark manager Jason Craver. "We're doing all right. We've got everything -- and heat and air conditioning and bathrooms. We're on a different level than the free parks."

Still, sometimes you just wanna board without being force-fed consumerism or signing a liability waiver. Which is why the Denver Skatepark -- 60,000 bustling square feet of bowls, banks and curbs built by the city in 2001 -- is already expanding. Last spring, Denver Parks and Recreation Department planner Mark Bernstein and his builders met with skaters -- not the professional athletes that Vans boasts on its design team, but everyday users -- to map out the last 10,000 square feet of the park. The final bill for the entire project will be $2.8 million, including $100,000 for repairs to the part already in use. "It's only two years old, and it's becoming very difficult to fund," Bernstein says. "But this has really been kind of a cool social experiment. We were having to deal with a lot of misperception during the planning, and since the dedication of Phase I, we've gotten all kinds of rave reviews from people who were adamantly opposed."

Such as Denver City Councilman Ed Thomas, who in July 2001 told Westword that "I don't think many skateboarders will actually use this park. Because this park is the one place where we, the establishment, are telling them they're allowed to do their skateboarding." Two years wiser, he now admits that "it's turned out far more successfully than I'd ever imagined."

And a task force has been formed to keep it that way, investigating ongoing funding options that include sponsorships and advertising. "There's a fine line," Bernstein says. "There's that moral issue of selling our soul versus providing the best facilities we can. I'm not certain what will happen."

If the decision is left up to the current city council and outgoing mayor Wellington Webb, you can kiss your souls goodbye: On Monday, they announced that they're considering selling advertising on public property to help cover the budget's projected $50 million deficit, a move they think could raise a million bucks.

Keep Denver beautiful: More up-close and personal views of the Coors Twins!


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