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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: May 30, 2003
Byline: Carla Anderson

Wheels of fortune shut out of LOVE Park?

Skateboard Ban Deserves Public Debate


LOVE Park, and the fight over whether it should be open to skateboarders, has now become a campaign issue.

Sam Katz, the candidate who wants to win Mayor Street's job next November, plans to announce today his intention to "liberate" the park for skateboarders.

"There are cities that pay PR firms millions to get the kind of buzz that LOVE Park brought us, and what did we do? We closed it," Katz said.

"It's like we put the kabosh on all the youthful energy and enthusiasm that we're trying to cultivate.

"It's backward thinking that could keep us from being among the elite cities in the country."

Katz, who has a background in sports marketing, said "tasteful" corporate sponsorship could allow the city to restore the park to skateboarders "without ripping off the taxpayers."

Street, who closed the park to skateboarders and then paid a top campaign contributor to block off the park's perfect speed ramp with ugly pink planters, could not be reached for comment.

In past columns on this issue, however, he has refused to reconsider his position, or respond to my suggestion that he conduct a professional marketing study of the real costs and benefits of LOVE Park skateboarders.

So I say it's about time we had this kind of public debate.

Because nationally, skateboarding is now a $1.5 billion-a-year industry.

It's the sixth-largest sport, and third among kids under 18. According to the sports research trade group American Sports Data Inc., more kids younger than 17 rode a skateboard last year than played baseball.

While people do disagree over whether skateboarders should use the park, no one disputes that skateboarders put Philly on the map when they took over the raw urban space, perfecting the kind of "street" tricks made famous by ESPN's wildly popular X Games.

And when Street decided to close the park, he just did it: without even basic information on whether the move would help us or hurt us.

Now, some numbers suggest that closing the park has actually hurt.

Alfred Raciti, owner of Elite skateboard shop on South Street, said equipment sales for skateboarding have been off about 50 percent since LOVE Park closed.

"The numbers are off all over the region," Raciti said. "It's mostly the sneaker manufacturing companies who've been asking why. They're sending out surveys, wanting to know why the numbers are down.

"And I tell them, it's because the kids - some of whom moved here from places like California and Texas just to skate LOVE - are moving out.

"Then there's the kids who are up and coming in this sport, about to become famous, and they're moving out, too - to places like New York and Los Angeles."

These "kids" are people like Josh Kalis, skateboarding icon and megabucks pro who just sold his house near Rittenhouse Square and moved to Chicago.

Or Stevie Williams, the 23-year-old from North and West Philadephia who left for Los Angeles - and reportedly now makes more than $500,000 a year on professional endorsements.

"I grew up at 21st and Diamond, 31st and Berks, 41st and that's the 'hood," Williams told me in a phone interview yesterday.

"For me to now own my own house in Hollywood, drive two Mercedes, own my label and distribution company? Philly really messed up man, cut off a lot of talent and cut off this avenue for success.

"John Street killed it. And now I feel bad, just for the fact that there's not going to be another me coming out of Philly.

"It sucks that I had to move. But I can't really afford not to skate, so I had to," Williams continued.

"But I'd give up all this s--- to come back home and be able to skate LOVE."

These skateboarders, many of whom earned their fame - and fortune - are now getting on board with a new grass-roots effort to reopen the park.

It's a mobilzation that's a testament to just what this spot meant to this sport - and what the city might have tossed away.

Even Tony Hawk, the legendary athlete who is to skateboarding what Michael Jordan is to basketball, told me he supports LOVE's role in this growing sport - despite his being a West Coast skater.

"The city of Philadelphia could be a pioneer in re-creating a legendary skate spot and designating it for skating-only.

"It would be a great PR move, and it would show that they support skateboarding outside of just welcoming the publicity of hosting the X Games," Hawk said.

"It's time to step up and realize what many other American cities have learned: Skateboarding is here to stay...skateboard parks garner more use than public tennis courts and baseball fields." homepage

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