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Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: September 3, 2003
Byline: Carla Anderson


A skateboard-themed eatery at LOVE Park?

It's What A Chef Has Cooked Up For The Vacant Visitor's Center

THE CAMPAIGN to re-open LOVE Park to skateboarders just got a great new twist — and this one has a social conscience.

Chef Jim Coleman is proposing to locate a skateboard-themed restaurant — that would also help disadvantaged young people get good jobs — in the vacant spaceship-looking building that sits on the southwest corner of the park.

Turns out that Coleman, Philadelphia's own food guru and radio, TV and newspaper personality, also works with the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition and has long wanted to establish a nonprofit restaurant that could serve as a culinary training school for disadvantaged kids.

Lately, he's been looking at the spaceship, which has been vacant since the visitor's center moved out. So when he read my column about a group of young city activists who want to re-open the park to skateboarders, using that building as a café or skateboard museum, he put two and two together and came up with five.

"I think it would be kind of cool to be able to sit out on the deck of that building, eat your sandwich and watch some of these guys do their stunts," Coleman said.

If he and his students ran the restaurant, he figured, he could help the skateboarders and their supporters raise money, while the skateboarders could help him attract customers.

"Having skateboarders around certainly makes sense, because skateboarding is part of our culture now. It's everywhere. The way I see it, if it's on ESPN, then it must be attracting a decent amount of attention."

This is a tremendous idea.

Personally, I'd love a chance to sit out on that deck and order a Kerry Getz Burger, maybe, or a plate of Elissa Steamers, followed by a Stevie Williams salad. But I'd love it even more if I knew I were helping this city's younger generation while I ate.

Job Itzkowitz, a law student and one of several spokesmen for the group of young professionals and skateboard activists who want the sport back in LOVE Park, is definitely on board.

"We haven't met with them formally yet, and we still have a lot to work out, but all sides are excited about the possibility of joining these two great ideas," he said.

And Coleman, who needs to raise about $1 million to get the project going, said he's prepared to hire and train staff himself, while the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College is lined up to provide technical classroom training. Profits from the restaurant would be used to underwrite the cost of the program, Coleman said.

"I'm talking about a high-end, high-profile start, along the lines of a Marathon Grill," Coleman said. "This would be serious culinary training, so that after 16 or 18 months, students who can't afford the tuition of a culinary school can get certified, and then go out and get jobs. And I don't mean fast-food jobs. I mean serious jobs, making serious money, in one of the city's only industries that's still growing."

Much will depend on Mayor Street, as well as Councilman Darrell Clarke, whose district includes LOVE Park. Both have so far opposed the return of skateboarders to the park.

But top officials in Street's administration are now considering a compromise plan to re-open the park to skateboarders.

And Clarke has also revealed a reluctant willingness to reconsider — based on the idea that the restaurant and the skateboarders work together.

"I'm willing to entertain a discussion, and it is an interesting concept," Clarke told me. "But, at the end of the day, we're looking at a site that can accommodate only so many uses. I would still want to maintain an opportunity for young people who just want to sit there and enjoy their lunch."

Clarke's concern for the City Hall lunch crowd is to be admired.

But this is about something bigger.

"We've said from the beginning that our fight for LOVE Park is about making Philadelphia more attractive to young people, sending a message that it's open, and fun, for a younger generation," said Itzkowitz. "That's not just for skateboarders or outsiders who may consider moving here. It's also for the young people who are already here.

"So if we can use this opportunity to provide job skills for our own, so that more of them decide to stay here and get jobs, well, that's even better."

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