Source: Philadelphia City Paper: City Beat
Date: May 8-14, 2003
Byline: Daniel Brook
Katz Loved LoveSam Katz adds his voice to those who bash changes to Love Park.
At a May 1 Pennsylvania Economy League meeting, Executive Director David Thornburgh explained that if the city was to grow, it would have to attract educated young people. As if to prove his commitment to the youth scene, Thornburgh sported a grunge-era goatee and casually mentioned that he had been listening to WXPN earlier in the day.
But Greg Heller, a 21-year-old college student, wasn't impressed. Even if one of the city's top policy wonks was on his side, the mayor was not. "My classmates at Wesleyan University know this city for two things: the Liberty Bell and Love Park. Love Park was a major draw for young people, and I hope the mayor is listening."
Last year, the city renovated the square near City Hall, making one of the world's best-known skateboard parks unskateable. The Street administration has always defended the move, saying it created a green space where Center City office workers could have lunch in place of a concrete slab under a constant barrage of skateboards. Administration spokesperson Christine Ottow says the City Planning Commission is drawing up plans for a skate park near the Art Museum.
Heller, who is taking a year off from college to work on a book with retired urban planner Ed Bacon -- creator of Love Park and one of the harshest critics of the renovation -- said he hoped Sam Katz would make the park an issue in the coming campaign.
If David Thornburgh can grow a goatee, apparently Sam Katz can become a champion of the skateboarder community. "First of all, I am an enthusiast for extreme sports," said candidate Katz, a middle-aged businessman from Mt. Airy. The candidate, who had formally announced his challenge the day before, quipped, "I don't quite understand the mentality of putting yourself at risk physically, but I guess the same could be said of football or ice hockey or running for mayor."
Katz came out swinging against the renovations of Love Park. "It's almost inconceivable after expending the effort to attract ESPN's X Games to Philadelphia," to shut down the beloved skate park. "In the marketing vernacular, you might call that stupid,'" he said, citing that the renovations cost $800,000.
"What we've created is an embarrassing piece of urban space," he said. "Would I buy a cup of coffee and drink it there? I don't think so."
While skaters insist that a few minor changes could make Love skateable again, Katz backs creating an alternate skate park: "I'm not ready to say, let's blow up $800,000 and redo the park."