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Ocala City Council to revamp skate park with $500,000 budget

Bundled up for a chilly Sunday afternoon with skateboard in hand, Phil Hajal surveyed the scene at the skate park he helped make possible. Skaters of all ages basked in the concrete jungle before him, performing tricks and taking turns attacking the obstacles laid out with precision design.

Local skaters have enjoyed the 10,000-square foot street course at Ocala Skate Park since it opened in 2019. However, the street course was just the first project at the park to be completed. The rest is yet to be designed.

The Ocala City Council recently allocated $500,000, through the city’s engineering department budget, to construct a snake run and two bowls at the park, located at 517 SE 9th Street in Tuscawilla Park.

After a five-year wait, Hajal will finally see the park through to completion.

“I can’t even put it into words,” Hajal said. “What an awesome opportunity it is for young kids to have a facility that they can skate, stay out of trouble, and will hopefully be one of the next Olympic gold medalists.”

The street course features ramps, curves, boxes, steps and rails that make it a hotspot for the growing number of Ocala skaters. The snake run and bowls were part of the city’s original plans for the park dating back to 2018 design concepts. A snake run is a curved, elongated course that allows skaters to learn how to control their speed. Bowls help teach balance and allow skaters to learn transition skating.

Hajal, 46, is the owner of Ocala Skate Shop and has been a professional skateboarder for more than 20 years. In that time he has emerged as a leading member of the skating community in North Central Florida and has pushed for the city to finish the park.

Ocala Recreation and Parks Director Preston Pooser anticipates construction will begin this summer and wrap up during the fall.

“The park has been well received since it opened,” Pooser said. “It's going to really enhance not only Tuscawilla Park, but the downtown experience, and we're looking forward to getting it completed.”

Hajal hopes the additions will address overcrowding on the park’s street course, which places experienced skateboarders and beginner riders in the same area and heightens the injury risk. Hajal estimates 2,000 kids participate in skateboarding in Ocala.

“If there’s too many people on the park at one time, kids get run into, especially the younger kids,” Hajal said. “Having two new bowls will create two completely new areas for people to skate.”

Hajal started a petition on last November outlining the need to finish the park and accumulated over 1,000 signatures. Ocala Assistant City Manager Ken Whitehead reached out in response to the petition, Hajal said.

The origins of the park go back to 2014, when the city completed a needs assessment and evaluation which determined the need for a skate park. The City Council approved $200,000 four months later to commission a design.

In 2018, the council committed $410,000 to build the current street course, with the second phase of the project set aside for the future.

The park opened its gates on May 18, 2019, to more than 700 skaters and installed lights in June 2020 to keep the park open until 10 p.m.

Austin St. Louis, 29, has been coming to the park nearly every day for the past three years and uses the street course as a training ground for his own professional career.

“I’ve met a bunch of wonderful people since I’ve been here,” St. Louis said. “The way it is right now is amazing. I’m very thankful that they are going to go ahead and finish the skatepark.”

The installation of an intermediate and advanced bowl will address catering to youth skaters, something both St. Louis and local skater Brandon Gabbard, 31, view as a key issue.

“We need a bigger bowl, we need a snake run and we need the smaller obstacles so people can get used to skateboarding,” Gabbard said. “There's no flat rail on the ground to start. We have boxes to learn on but we're just missing a few aspects.”

Jalil Johnson, 13, makes the short trip from Belleview to the park once a month with his brother, five-year-old Josiah. He would like to see tutorial billboards added so younger skaters such as himself can pick up tips and tricks. The park has given him the opportunity to surround himself with fellow skaters who have instilled confidence in him as his skillset expands.

“Once you find a skate park, you get to meet new people,” Johnson said. “Some of those people are really nice and you bond and have friends.”

A request for proposal (RFP) will be issued by the city before the end of the month, Pooser said. At this point construction companies will be able to submit bids to the city in hopes of being awarded the contract.

Team Pain Skate Parks, a Winter Park, Florida, based skate park construction company led by CEO Tim Payne, built the street course for Ocala Skate Park five years ago.

Hajal hopes Team Pain is chosen to finish the job and says their experience and quality of work sets them apart from other contractors.

“Just caring about the product because most of them are skateboarders,” Hajal said. “You can trust that they're going to build the right thing.”

Whatever happens next, Hajal is just happy to be on the other side of the fight. “It's an honor for me just to have any small part in this,” Hajal said. “I can die tomorrow and be a happy man as long as this park gets finished.”

Ethan is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing