Philadelphia is hoping to make law-abiding citizens out of its outlaw skateboarders
The idea is that a proposed, $5 million skatepark near the Philadelphia Museum of Art will not only pick up skateboarders banned from Center City’s LOVE Park but also be a magnet for corporate donations.
With proverbial helmet in hand, a nonprofit called Franklin’s Paine Skateboard Fund is looking to raise the $5 million from the skateboard industry’s equipment manufacturers, apparel makers and retailers, as well as from Philadelphia corporations.
The bait: tapping into Philadelphia’s youthful street skater demographic, offering proximity to Philadelphia’s arts-rich Benjamin Franklin Parkway and naming rights. Could Campbell Soup Skatepark or Tastykake Park be far behind?
What we’ve learned is the neighbors on the [Ben Franklin Parkway] are the most important selling point. Philadelphia is known for its arts and culture, but it’s also known for its skateboarding. That’s why I think it’s worth $5 million to a corporate sponsor, said Joshua H. Nims, executive director at Franklin’s Paine. Each neighbor is a $1 billion value. [Donors] would have the ability to be part of the neighborhood for a measly $5 million.
Plans for Schuylkill River Skatepark were unveiled Thursday at a public meeting. They must be approved by the Fairmount Park Commission, but Franklin’s Paine hopes to break ground by next spring.
The skatepark straddles two worlds. On one side, the site borders Eakins Oval, also known as the Art Museum Circle, giving it accessibility to museum goers. On the other, it faces the Schuylkill River bike path, a two-year-old recreational path that is part of a larger effort by the Schuylkill River Development Corp. to clean up portions of the riverfront and offer more recreational opportunities.
City of Philadelphia officials donated the land for the skatepark and a $100,000 grant, which Franklin’s Paine used to commission architectural plans.
I could see people dropping their kids at the skatepark and going to the museum, said Anthony Bracali, chief architect of the park and owner of AB Arch LLC in Old City.
Skateboard parks tend to fall into two groups: privately run ventures that rent skateboards, pads and helmets and offer food concessions, and publicly funded parks, which tend to be outdoors and more bare bones, with riders providing their own equipment.
Still, Schuylkill River Skatepark would differ from the kinds of skateboard parks that have flourished in cities as diverse as surf-rich San Diego to snowbound Manitowoc, Wis. — parks that feature giant bowls similar to the rounded contours of a (dry) swimming pool, catering to so-called transitional skaters.
In this case, the skatepark would be, first and foremost, a park, with benches, grass and other enticements to nonskaters — an overture to bicyclists, runners and parents with baby strollers.
It would also have the curbs, ledges and contoured walls favored by urban skateboarders.
To move forward, Franklin’s Paine (a takeoff on Revolutionary patriots Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine), needs money — at least $60,000 just to start a large-scale fund-raising effort, with input from a development consultant.
Skateboarding’s patrons have ranged from brands like Mountain Dew, a sponsor of the ESPN XGames, to Vans, a maker of skateboarding shoes that also has developed private skateboard parks.
Pro skateboarder Tony Hawk set up the Tony Hawk Foundation specifically to help fund community skateboard parks nationwide. Yet grants top out at $25,000. In 2002, the organization gave the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund $5,000.
For Nims, a 30-year-old South Carolina native who came to Philadelphia to attend Temple Law School, the trick to taking Philadelphia’s skate scene mainstream may be as daunting as an aerial 360.
Skateboarding’s outlaw image has been mythologized in such movies as Lords of Dogtown, which focused on three California skaters in the 1970s, but the reality is that much of skateboarding has been channeled into for-profit skateboarding centers — where kids are required to wear pads and helmets and pay fees to skate.
Yet the outlaw element remains, begging the question whether skateboarders might continue to favor LOVE Park, where they are prohibited from skating and which two weeks ago hosted a mass demonstration by skateboarders.
Will they really depart LOVE Park — itself an icon in Tony Hawk’s video game — for a legal skatepark?
Yes and no. Yes, there is a rebellious element, but not as much as is perceived by non-skaters, Nims said. I think if they’re looking to ‘grind’ some granite and they can do it in a peaceful place; that’s all they want.