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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: October 2, 2003
Byline: Carla Anderson


Hey, Philly, there's a wheel opportunity here

SKATEBOARDING IS BIG BUSINESS

IF YOU thought the plan to bring skateboarders back to LOVE Park was a doomed scheme dreamed up by irresponsible teenagers, think again.

The young professionals spearheading this effort already have raised $30,000, including a $25,000 pledge from legendary city planner Ed Bacon. They're well on track to raise their goal of $100,000 this year — money they'll need to pay for repairs to the park and enforcement of the limited skateboard hours they've proposed there.

They've developed a Wharton-style business plan that actually has the park making money over time. And Sunday at 1 p.m., they'll hold a rally at City Hall's Dilworth Plaza to raise support for the cause.

They say it's all a matter of principle.

"LOVE Park is an international symbol of youth and vitality, an image Philadelphia desperately needs to project," said Andrew Hohns, who is an investment banker and a Wharton graduate as well as a key leader in the effort.

"The park also brings life and vibrancy during the evening to an otherwise underused city block. It provides a generous amount of free publicity for the city, and generates a significant amount of tourism. So far, over 4,000 people from over 36 countries have signed an online petition to open LOVE Park to skateboarding."

I say it's time to end this drama and let the skateboarders come back.

Mayor Street might not have understood the full picture when he closed skateboarders out of LOVE Park two years ago, but the young professionals who want it back have argued a compelling bottom-line case.

They just might help this city take advantage of what is clearly a growing industry.

In the past five years, baby-boomer children — which number some 70 million — have pushed skateboarding into one of the fastest growing sports in the country, according to American Sports Data Inc. Skateboard sales have led to an explosion of manufacturers as well as shops. According to the International Association of Skateboard Companies, some 100,000 skateboards are now manufactured each month, under more than 300 brands.

And it's not just the corporate big shots that make all this money. With the sport getting extensive television coverage as well as video-game exposure, it is not unheard of for teenage skateboarders to earn a six-figure annual income on endorsements alone.

Philadelphia, already home to more pros than either New York or Washington, could get in on this game.

Imagine the possibilities of a direct city-to-city challenge! We'd be certain to win the competition — as well as sports media coverage and corporate sponsorship of the event. And what about all the aspiring pros who live in our neighborhoods? What better leg up could we give them?

Street's administration, which has so far opposed skateboarding downtown but is now deciding whether to allow it on a time-limited basis, would do well to consider the experience of Vancouver, British Columbia.

That city, like ours, feels the need to attract young people and is making a public effort to do so.

And until very recently, it treated skateboarders much like we do: banning the sport from downtown streets and plazas as well as authorizing cops to confiscate skateboards.

There, as here, it didn't work. Skateboarders continued showing up and resentments festered.

Finally, under pressure from skateboard activists, city leaders embraced the popular sport, which draws big ticket sponsors as well as national television coverage.

They built a brand-new skatepark downtown; undid the "improvements" they'd installed to try and keep skateboarders out and repealed all laws against skateboarding on public property. They proclaimed the last week of April "Skateboarding Week."

"For the first time, many realized the popularity of the sport, noting the presence of NBC and Fox Sports," as well as some 15,000 spectators at that city's skateboarding event, "Slam City Jam," said Michael Gordon, senior member of Vancouver's planning department.

Come on, Philadelphia. We may be familiar with the problems that skateboarding bring, but we haven't begun to explore the possibilities.

Let's do it.

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