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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Gainesville skateboarders oppose destruction of local skate spot

The city ordered the demolition of a popular DIY skate park

Josh Ketterer, 29, attempts a skate trick called a “50/50” at the Gentleman’s Club, a DIY skate park in Gainesville, Florida on Sunday, May 30, 2021. The skate park was built by skaters on private property and the city has ordered it to be torn down by June 20.
Josh Ketterer, 29, attempts a skate trick called a “50/50” at the Gentleman’s Club, a DIY skate park in Gainesville, Florida on Sunday, May 30, 2021. The skate park was built by skaters on private property and the city has ordered it to be torn down by June 20.

More than 1,300 people have signed a petition to save a DIY skate spot in Gainesville that the city ordered to be demolished by June 20. 

The “Gentleman’s Club” is a DIY skate park — a type of skate park where skaters build ramps, rails and other obstacles with their own materials, typically without the permission of landowners. The park resides at 2212 SW 13th St., next to La Tienda, a popular Mexican restaurant in Gainesville. Trader’s South, the inspiration for its name, used to house live music, topless dancers and performances by people like Tom Petty until 2006. 

Now, the property takes on a different look — the strippers have been replaced with skaters, and it now rains kickflips instead of dollar bills inside the empty walls that once housed vibrant nightlife. 

The city inspected the property on May 18 and sent notice to the owner that the ramps and walls need to be torn down by June 20. The property is currently in violation of section 13-301.3 of the City of Gainesville Code of Ordinances, according to the notice of violation. 

The cited ordinance states vacant structures need to be maintained in clean, safe, secure and sanitary conditions so they aren’t detrimental to public health. 

Failure to take corrective action by removing the ramps and walls and securing the area with a fence by June 20 could result in up to $5,000 per day in fines for the owner, according to the notice. 

Carlos Perez, who helped build the Gentlemen’s Club, said he quit his job at an architecture firm to build skate parks professionally.

“It's literally changed my life,” Perez said. 

Ben Bradford, a 29-year-old traveling skate park builder who helped organize and build much of the park, said the spot has become important to the skate community in Gainesville. 

“The Gentlemen's Club is a place for us to go and not bother anyone and just peacefully skate and hang out,” Bradford said. “We build what we want to skate.”

Bradford said the skate park is open to anyone and serves as a place of expression.  

David Wells, the creator of the 99 Print Shop, a clothing brand that found success in the Gainesville skate community, said the spot is well known. 

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“Before even moving to Gainesville, I always heard about it,” Wells said. 

The 21-year-old Santa Fe graduate said DIY spots are important because they provide a different atmosphere than a commercial skate park.

“The heavy, hardcore locals are there,” he said. “Even if there's not much at a DIY, it means a lot to the community.”

Wells said he’s made many new friends and memories through the Gentleman’s Club, and he knows many people who take trips to Gainesville just to visit the spot. 

“From this abandoned strip club, it's turned into such a epicenter of community in Gainesville,” he said. 

While the Gentleman’s Club has been a skate spot for over six years, most of the work on it started in August. Bradford said he began organizing local skaters around Gainesville to create a place with steeper ramps that gave a smoother flow for skating, especially compared to those found at Possum Creek State Park, a popular concrete skate park in Gainesville. 

“It would be almost easier for me to say who didn’t help than who did help,” Bradford said. “Most of the core skateboarders in Gainesville have either contributed labor or financially.” 

Since starting work on the project, Bradford said about $5,000 of concrete and reinforced steel has been shaped into ramps against the walls of the former bar.

Skaters flock to the Gentleman’s Club because it provides skating opportunities that aren’t available within a two-hour drive of Gainesville, Bradford said. He said the nearest good skate parks are in Jacksonville. 

He said he’s had limited interaction with the property owner, and no issues have arisen from the few times he’s seen the property manager.

“He's been there when we've literally been unloading like $1,500 worth of concrete bags,” Bradford said. “He’s like ‘all right, you guys are all right,’ and just took off.”

The surrounding neighborhoods and businesses have not expressed issues with the presence of the skate park, he said.

The spot is inside three concrete walls with around 50 feet of woods separating it from the nearest road. It is not visible from the road due to the heavy wooding.

The closest building to the spot is La Tienda, where Sofia Patino, a cashier, said the restaurant has no issue with the skaters. 

The 23-year-old said the only problem that arises from the skaters who use their parking lot is some littering. 

Bradford said a handwritten note was found from the owner or property manager two weeks ago. The note said neighbors complained about noise, and the city ordered all ramps to be demolished and removed. 

“It was a good thing while it lasted and now must stop,” the note reads. “Please respect the change.”

City officials declined requests for an interview after multiple phone calls and a media request. 

The Gentleman’s Club Instagram page is urging people to sign the petition and email city commissioners to stress the spot’s importance.

If the spot gets torn down, Bradford would probably leave Gainesville. He said there will be nothing good enough to keep him in town.

“It means everything to us,” he said. “The Gentleman’s Club is our heart and soul.”

Contact Sam Schaffer at sschaffer@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @samschaf_.

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