Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: June 2, 2004
Byline: Michael Currie Schaffer
Money can't buy LOVE ParkCity spurns a $1 million offer to reverse skateboarding ban.
Fans of skateboarding in JFK Plaza have long argued that the sport was of economic value to Philadelphia.
Yesterday, they put a figure to their position: $1 million.
That was the reward offered by a California sneaker manufacturer if the city reversed its ban on skateboards in the plaza, a popular Center City tourist spot also known as LOVE Park.
"This has become more than just a park," said Ken Block, president of DC Shoes Inc. "It's become a landmark in skateboarding. It's absolutely irreplaceable."
But the city's initial reaction to the bounty has been somewhat less than enthusiastic.
"He basically told me that what I was doing was useless and that the mayor would never allow it," Block said of a conversation he'd had with Philadelphia Managing Director Philip R. Goldsmith on Monday.
Goldsmith repeated that position yesterday, declaring efforts to bring skateboarding back to the park dead on arrival.
"Skateboarding and people enjoying this space have become, I think, incompatible," said Goldsmith, who had met repeatedly over the last few months with skateboard advocates to try to reach a compromise solution to the 2002 ban.
Goldsmith said he had "terminated" the talks, and lashed out at Friends of LOVE Park, the group that organized Block's appearance at a news conference yesterday. "They should have given us notice and planned it with us," Goldsmith said of the event.
The city began enforcing a rule against skateboarding in the park in 2002, citing damage figures of $60,000 a year and inconvenience to people who want to stroll or eat lunch there. Since then, advocates have tried to work out a compromise under which skateboarding would be allowed during certain hours and in certain parts of the park.
Friends of LOVE Park board member Andrew Hohns said that Block's donation was a way to meet another condition Goldsmith set ending the ban: The money, in increments of $100,000 a year, would pay to repair skateboard damage and subsidize a monitor to ensure that skateboarding takes place at approved times.
But Goldsmith said the money did not resolve the most important question which part of the park would be off-limits. The administration has sought to keep skateboarding away from the fountain, which is central to the park's skateboard lore.
The conflict features contrasting ideas of what the space is.
For skateboard fans, LOVE Park represents an icon of the sport, an attraction that lures visitors to Philadelphia and lends the city a rare bit of cool.
Exhibit A in this version is Block, whose Vista, Calif., company may sell a Friends of LOVE Park sneaker nationwide in exchange for the donation.
To the administration, the plaza is a place where hundreds of people eat lunch or stroll and where they would prefer to do so without dodging four-wheeled missiles.
A forthcoming chess contest and a plan to make the park a wireless Internet zone define this version of the park.
Goldsmith also noted that the city plans a new skateboard facility near the Art Museum. LOVE Park enthusiasts say that is no replacement for the storied park.
At the news conference, Block and Hohns were joined by City Controller Jonathan Saidel, former City Planning Commission Director Edmund Bacon, and a pair of Philadelphia-bred skateboard professionals.
The audience included several dozen young skateboarders, many of them from Philadelphia's suburbs. "It's a really perfect place to skate," said Ricky McDonald, 14, who learned of the event from a flyer in a skate shop near his Westville, Gloucester County, home.
Calls to Street's office yesterday were referred to Goldsmith.
Block, 36, who called the park "the Wrigley Field of skateboarding," himself skateboarded at the park during a visit five years ago.
He said the money would still be there even if it could not be spent until after Street left office.
"They can use it when there's a new mayor," he said.