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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: June 2, 2004
Byline: Carla Anderson


Cover Story: City to boarders and shoe $$: Keep walking

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Daily News cover, June 2, 2004
THE CONTROVERSY over whether skateboarders can use LOVE Park has suddenly turned into a million-dollar pissing match.

DC Shoes, a $100 million company based in California, announced yesterday that it will give $1 million over 10 years to pay for future skateboard damage in LOVE Park, if the city reopens the park to skateboarding.

But it appears that Mayor Street and Managing Director Phil Goldsmith, who have long objected to skateboarders, pretty much told the shoe executives to shove it. Philadelphia is not about to let the skateboarders back in.

"There's never going to be any skateboarding in LOVE Park, period," Goldsmith said yesterday.

Barbara Grant, Street's spokeswoman, agreed.

"We had been talking to this group, and those talks have been terminated," said Grant. "We gave them an opportunity to fully and fairly air their issues. But we just don't see skateboarding in LOVE Park."

Grant said the skateboard advocates overstepped their bounds by negotiating the million-dollar pledge, despite the fact that Street said he'd consider their compromise plan, which included raising money for repairs and hiring someone to enforce time limits for park skateboarders.

"We never got to a point where people were told, OK, now go out and start raising money for the park," Grant said.

Ken Block, president of DC Shoes, said Goldsmith even called him in California to try to block his company's offer.

"He told me that the mayor was never going to let skateboarding into LOVE Park no matter what we did," Block said yesterday. "He said this subject was really just 'a pimple on the ass of an elephant' compared to everything else he was dealing with, and that the way it was being handled didn't seem very professional.

"I have to say, it's unsettling for me," Block continued. "I worked with [the skateboard advocates] and negotiated a contribution of $1 million so that the city can promote youth sports, and the city doesn't want it? And for the managing director to personally call me and tell me that no matter what I do, the mayor isn't going to accept this contribution? That floors me. I can't fathom it.

"These [skateboard advocates] have handled themselves so well during the past several months that we've been talking, I've been really impressed," he continued. "It's too bad my interaction with the city itself has been so negative."

Goldsmith confirmed that conversation yesterday, but said he was just giving Block the courtesy of a call, to let him know where the mayor stood.

"I think I used the word 'hide,' rather than 'ass,' at least that's how I remember it, but if I did I'm not going to deny it," he told me. "I told him that he was more than welcome to come here, and that we were delighted he was showing an interest in our city, but that it appears we have a difference of opinion."

Goldsmith added that Block had used the word "democracy" when talking about the skateboarder's desire to use the park.

"I told him, well, we had our own democracy here, and we had it in November," Goldsmith said. "The mayor clearly did not want skateboarding in the park, and he won. The candidate who did support it fell off his skateboard, and he lost."

The skateboarders do have some support. John Dougherty, who is the city's Democratic Party treasurer and one of the city's major power brokers, has been converted to the skateboard cause.

"This kind of investment in public resources represents the type of creative thinking and public-private partnership that will push our city forward," Dougherty said in a prepared statement yesterday. "In the end, this means more jobs for our members, more commerce on our streets, and more vitality for our City."

And City Controller Jonathan Saidel, fiscal watchdog for the city, said yesterday that Street would be foolish to pass up this offer.

"Frankly, a million-dollar check is something I could really use right now," Saidel said.

"I looked at the managing director's statement, and read how he wants the park to be used for a chess tournament next week, that's it's soon going wireless, and that these are reasons why we can't have skateboarding," he continued. "Well, how in the world does that conflict with young people skateboarding? It doesn't. Skateboarders wouldn't even be here during those hours. Why not just let them have their time?"

City Council Majority Leader Jannie Blackwell and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown also support the skateboarders, as does the Logan Square Neighbors Association.

The coalition of skateboarders and young activists began their quest last year, after suggesting that skateboarders could share the park with those who want to sit quietly and eat their lunch by limiting skateboard hours.

Within weeks, Wharton grads and coalition leaders Andrew Hohns and Job Itzkowitz had raised more than $30,000 for a non-profit that would pay for damages caused by skateboarders. But when the $1 million commitment came in, they said, they were as surprised as anybody.

"At a time when so many rec centers across the city are being squeezed, and when our city parks are under similar pressure, it is a real beacon that we can announce this $1 million investment for Love Park," said Hohns, co-founder of the Friends of LOVE Park. "Because the reality is that this park is not just a city-wide resource, but a national one, too."

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