Proposed Miami Skate Park Pits Skaters Against Preservationists | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Proposed Miami Skate Park Pits Skaters Against Preservationists

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(New Times visited the park on three occasions in October, staying two to three hours each time. Levy and Hurtado allowed hip-hop music to be played, but the noise didn't travel past the basketball courts next to the skate park. Though most of the teenaged riders skated without adult supervision, parents accompanied children under 10. And we didn't see anyone inside the skate park lighting a spliff or a pipe.)

After the WPLG story, other concerned citizens joined the synagogue's opposition. One of them was Miami Lakes-based publicist Penny Lambeth, who sprang into action after receiving a Google Alerts message about the news story during the Fourth of July weekend. Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Lambeth migrated to Miami 30 years ago. She graduated from Ohio State with a degree in journalism but made her career in public relations. "I came for a vacation and just fell in love with the city," she says. "I got involved with local preservation groups because I am a big history buff."

Lambeth has been a member of the Dade Heritage Trust as well as the Villagers, a Coral Gables historic preservation group, for more than two decades. During a face-to-face interview, Lambeth rattles off the restoration projects for which she has volunteered: Venetian Pool, the Gusman Center, Actors' Playhouse, the downtown Miami civil courthouse, and the Merrick House, among others.

But her most cherished project has been the City of Miami Cemetery, where city founders such as Mary Brickell, Henry Flagler, and Julia Tuttle are entombed. As chairwoman of the City Cemetery Task Force, Lambeth led the charge in 1998 to clean up the then-101-year-old burial ground.

An elderly woman with white-blond hair and a voice as tender as sweet corn, Lambeth recalls how she pushed city officials to clear out a homeless encampment in the 10.5-acre cemetery, where burials began in 1897. "They had set up an entire living room behind some hedges," Lambeth says. "They were washing their clothes in the faucets and hanging their clothes to dry on tree branches."

She was also instrumental in securing a $110,000 federal grant that was used to build an eight-foot-high steel fence and install lighting. For the past decade and a half, Lambeth adds, she has gathered her preservation buddies to plant trees and spread fresh mulch three or four times a year. She has also led efforts to place grave markers for the African-Americans laid to rest in the segregated part of the cemetery.

The CRA's plan to convert the city-owned lot next door into a skate park has left her flabbergasted. In Lambeth's view, skaters fall into the same social category as the vagrants she chased out 12 years ago. "I'm not saying all skateboarders are bad," she says. "But the majority I have seen invite graffiti and vandalism. That is unacceptable next to a historic cemetery."

Lambeth, who also questions why the city would reduce green space to spend $700,000 on a concrete skate park, quickly mobilized her coalition, which includes former Sen. Bob Graham, car dealership mogul Norman Braman, and Miami historians Paul George and Enid Pinkney, who is head of the Dade Heritage Trust's African-American Committee. Pinkney doesn't mince words about the controversy. "I think the city can find another spot for the skate park," she says. "They just don't want to. It is a lot easier for them to disrespect Miami's history."

Using her skills as a publicist, Lambeth bombarded local media outlets, including New Times, with news releases announcing the unified front against the Miami skate park. To cast her ominous PR message, she emailed stock images of skateboarders standing before graffiti-covered walls while smoking cigarettes. In some instances, her pitch succeeded. An August 22 Miami Herald article played up Lambeth's negative slant, citing the closure of a skate park in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, after vandals set fires there.

To counter the attacks, Levy has been supplying reporters and city officials with research that pretty much debunks the opponents' main objections. Lambeth acknowledges that Levy met with her and Pinkney to show them skate parks built next to cemeteries in Piedmont, California; Fayetteville, West Virginia; Medford, Oregon; and Independence, Missouri. "He was very nice," Lambeth says. "He offered to get the skaters to volunteer at the cemetery, and he probably would. But bringing all that concrete to a public park is just not a good idea. Why not take it to a warehouse or an abandoned shopping mall or an underpass?"

A white Chevy work van rumbles north on I-95 just past Exit 205C as the sun breaks over the horizon on the east side of the highway. Levy, with a black mesh baseball cap covering his clean-shaven, cherubic face, snores atop a burgundy-and-gold floral-print bench in the back of the van. Skateboards of various shapes and protective helmets lie scattered on the floor.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.

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