Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: August 22, 2003
Byline: Michael Currie Schaffer
Street introduces future skate parkHeading into a mayoral election campaign, Philadelphia faces budget woes, population flight, and a soaring murder rate. But to judge from political maneuvering in the last two days, those challenges pale beside another hot-button topic: skateboards.
Yesterday afternoon, an unlikely assortment of reporters and tattooed skateboard enthusiasts climbed over a guardrail and down a grassy embankment by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to hear Mayor Street introduce the future site of a new, "world-class skateboard facility."
The new facility, which advocates estimated would cost $2 million, would be financed with public and private dollars. Street said the city would pay for the design, and he called on business and charitable groups to help fund construction and operation.
A day earlier, Republican mayoral hopeful Sam Katz issued a statement embracing a compromise in the controversy over skateboarding at a more prominent downtown location, LOVE Park.
Under a proposal put forward by the Coalition to Free LOVE Park, the onetime mecca would remain closed to skateboarders in the morning and at lunch hour, but reopen for them at 3 p.m.
"I've realized the importance of LOVE Park as an icon for the rapidly growing phenomenon of street skating," said Katz, who at a May news conference briefly rode and fell off a skateboard at LOVE Park.
Not to be outdone, Street reminded his audience yesterday that he had ample experience with the sport as the father of a young skateboarder. "I've been to most skateboard facilities within a 50- to 100-mile radius of the city," he said.
But Street said his enthusiasm for a dedicated skateboard facility did not mean that he, too, was not open to compromise on LOVE Park.
"We don't see this as a reason to say, 'No, we won't talk about LOVE Park,' " he said, adding that the proposed solution "raises a nice concept" whose specifics needed to be fleshed out.
The recent media and political attention to skateboarding follows several years of advocacy for the sport.
Beginning with a small group of enthusiasts, the movement to reopen LOVE Park to skateboarding gained the support of business and historical groups by linking the park a nationally known skateboarding locale whose likeness appears in video games to the prospect of tourist dollars and the city's ability to lure young people.
"It's a great way to grow the city younger," said Job Iskowitz of Young Involved Philadelphia, a nonpartisan advocacy group. Iskowitz said LOVE Park's reputation drew visitors to the city and even prompted serious skateboarders to move to Philadelphia.
Skateboard advocates said the proposed Schuylkill River Park was not an acceptable substitute for reopening LOVE Park to the sport.
"It's great to build a skate park," said Greg Heller of the Skateboard Advocacy Network. "But LOVE Park had an iconic status that can't be replaced."
Street's announcement, combined with conciliatory words from the mayor and Managing Director Philip Goldsmith on a LOVE Park compromise, might mean that skateboarders will wind up with access to both parks.
And at the news conference yesterday, Street jokingly tried to bring more politicians into the skateboard lobby's orbit.
"I understand that Gov. Rendell is a great skateboarder," he said in response to a question about possible sources of funding.
After pausing to allow those assembled a moment to picture the less-than-svelte governor atop a speeding board, he added: "Just kidding."