By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
Two former Imperial residents are about to realize a dream when Bay198, an indoor skateboard park, opens in Lincoln Oct. 16.
“God willing,” laughed 27-year old Mike Smith, as he described the deconstruction and renovation of a former miniature golf complex in Westfield Gateway Mall.
The name of the park derives from the name of the space in the mall, Smith said.
Along with fellow basketball player and 2001 Chase County High School graduate Nick Kaiser, 27, Smith was in Imperial over the weekend to discuss funding of the park with friends.
Smith is the founder and executive director of Bay198. Kaiser is secretary of the board. Besides other board directors, a number of area businesses and individuals have donated time, expertise, architectural and legal advice and more to the skateboard park.
Smith’s vision, after working with youth for over 10 years at CEDARS, Lincoln Berean Church and other organizations, was to provide a place where youth at risk could find safety, guidance and role models.
He said youth who never had a father at home, no supervision, in trouble with the law, and “looking for attention by alternative needs” make up a “big chunk” of the kids he wants to attract to the park.
“You’ve got to be able to meet them where they’re at,” he explained, adding that skateboarding is about roots and “where you came from.”
Kaiser added that “We’re doing it because we want to hit those kids, not that other kids can’t come, too.”
Kaiser is a media specialist at Beadle Middle School in the Millard Public School system.
Their website, www.bay198.com, states “Our desire is to grow skateboarding not only as a sport, but as a means to express oneself, while being a positive influence in our community.”
Smith said there are 500 skateboarders in the Lincoln-Omaha area, but this will be the only indoor park in the Nebraska-Iowa-Kansas area.
“We want to provide a safe place for kids,” he said, as well as being a positive influence in the community.
In that vein, Smith and Kaiser said Bay198 is purchasing all supplies locally, and skaters, staff and the skate team will participate in events that give back to the community, such as giving food to food pantries and diapers to the Lincoln Crisis Pregnancy Center, serving in shelters, cleaning up parks, and handing out food baskets.
“Our desire is to be more than a skate park,” Smith said. “We want to challenge individuals, push creative boundaries and empower the skaters as we develop deeper relationships with them.”
Staff at Bay198 will be volunteer, as will the skate team members, who coach the skaters.
“We’ve been able to recruit the top eight skaters in Nebraska, which gives us legitimacy,” Smith noted. The skate team members are great role models.
Smith will be available to talk with skaters who have problems at home, in school, etc.
Bay198 has partnered with the Lincoln Public Schools to allow teachers to give coupons for free skating to students who exhibit good behavior, or improve their grades.
“Why get an A?” Kaiser said some of the students might think. “Dangle the carrot of free skating in front of them, and it’s a big pull.”
Smith added that Bay198 will also allow skaters to paint graffiti in the park as a reward for good grades.
Bay198 is a charity-based recreational non-profit organization. It has had non-profit status since February.
Smith said the park is not faith-based, but is “a positive way in which the board can impact” the community and its youth.
Donations come in all shapes and sizes, from monetary to lumber, to electrical help, to Moms volunteering at the snack stand.
The 7,500 square foot space will be mainly a large open one. The equipment used in skateboarding consists of everything from railings to staircases, ledges, dumpsters, electrical boxes and more.
“Street elements,” Kaiser explained, like skating in the Hay Market.
Smith pointed out that 95 percent of skateboarding is like this, while only five percent is done on giant ramps.
Bay1998 also owns a moveable set of equipment that staff can take to schools and other arenas for demonstrations of skateboarding and for competition.
Everything is sectioned so it can be moved.
Most of the equipment was purchased from a former skate park in Omaha, and has been custom built for Bay198.
The design for the park has been redrawn at least 20 times, and was being updated last weekend.
While other skate parks have come and gone, Smith said Bay198 is “the opposite of those parks. They were old school, and weren’t designed by skaters.”
Smith is a wakeboarder, snowboarder and skateboarder. He considers himself retired now, as shoulder surgery has sidelined him from competition.
Skateboarding is individualized and skaters have a great sense of balance, Smith said. They have fearlessness and courage. Skateboarding is the fastest growing sport in the country, the two noted.
The men, who not only played basketball at CCHS together, but at Grace University in Omaha, said they were in Imperial to see “how Imperial can help in a tangible way, people who saw us grow up,” Smith commented.
Bay198 “is not a flash in the pan type of thing,” Kaiser stated. “This is something we’re passionate about,” Smith concluded.