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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: May 31, 2003
Byline: Julie Stoiber


Katz says skateboard riders need LOVE, too

The GOP mayoral candidate took a brief skateboard ride and said he favors lifting the skating ban at LOVE Park.

inq053103
JONATHAN WILSON / Inquirer
Inquirer Republican mayoral candidate Sam Katz hops onto a skateboard at LOVE Park, where skateboarding is subject to a $25 fine and police officers are often posted to enforce the policy.

Skateboarders of Philadelphia embraced Republican Sam Katz as their new hero yesterday after he attempted to show that underneath his power ties and business suits, he's just like them: black and blue from trying to master the legendary granite of LOVE Park.

The 53-year-old candidate for mayor won over the audience when he fell off a skateboard and landed hard on his backside during a news conference at which he announced he is joining the crusade to legalize skateboarding at the Center City park, a mecca for enthusiasts of the sport.

"Awesome," said skateboarder Bill Orsi, 18, of North Philadelphia, as Katz picked himself up off the pavement, sweating and smiling.

"It's a very dangerous sport," Katz quipped.

The skateboarding stunt was the start of Katz's effort to help "resuscitate and liberate LOVE Park," which he said has broad implications for the city's campaign to attract young people.

"This has to be part of that strategy," said Katz, as he stood surrounded by teens with battered boards and baggy jeans. "If we can't keep young people here, there won't be a tax base."

With sweeping ledges and endless stairs, LOVE Park — formally known as John F. Kennedy Plaza and situated near City Hall — is a skateboarder's dream. But the sport is illegal there, and police have been more vigilant about chasing away teens on wheels since the park was dressed up last year with new planters, benches and greenery.

"I can see the appeal, but it's not a park for skateboarding," said Mark Nevins, communications director for Mayor Street, Katz's opponent in the November election. "LOVE Park is the people's park, and it's not going to be handed over to skateboarders."

Damage to the park from skateboarders is estimated in the "high hundreds of thousands," Nevins said. What's more, he said, skateboarders have been seen prying up granite pavers and using them as jumps.

"I don't see that being conducive to people enjoying the park," Nevins said.

In a news release issued yesterday afternoon, Nevins accused Katz of trying to deflect attention from news reports about a lawsuit in which the candidate's ex-partners accused him of participating in an embezzlement scheme involving financing of a series of skating rinks.

Nevins said the Street administration is working on plans for a skateboard park along the Schuylkill.

Orsi, a Temple University student, said nothing could replace LOVE Park.

"It's a never-ending, beautiful circle of ledges and steps," he said. "Endless fun."

Katz said that when skateboarders are chased from LOVE Park, they cruise the city looking for other sites and causing damage. He said the city would do well to put protective finishes on the granite at LOVE Park and let the skateboarders congregate there, cultivating it as "a center of skateboarding and youth vitality."

He said he planned to seek support from corporations.

"I know companies that would kill to be associated with LOVE Park," Katz said.

Edmund Bacon, 93, noted city planner of the 1950s and '60s who designed LOVE Park while an architecture student at Cornell University, appeared at the news conference in support of Katz's effort.

"I think it was a terrible mistake to have excluded them," Bacon said of the skateboarders. "I don't think Philadelphia will ever live down the inhumanity, the lack of feeling, and the intergenerational conflict.

"I'm very proud that Vincent Kling, the architect, and I managed to create something that would be a world attraction," Bacon said.

Turning it into a place where skateboarders can legally grind and ollie, though, would require the support of City Council and the business chiefs whose offices border the park and whose employees eat lunch near the fountain there.

And that's unlikely: Building managers in the vicinity converged on City Hall this week to urge Council to pass a bill that would increase the fine for skateboarding on public property and posted private property to $75 from $25.

Orsi said he was realistic about the chances the effort would succeed. "It's going to take more than Sam Katz getting on a skateboard," he said.

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