Love JonesThanks to changes at Love Park, big money skateboarders say they’ll take their six-figure incomes elsewhere.
Josh Kalis, a 26-year-old skateboarder, makes a pretty decent living. He counts himself among three Philadelphia skateboarders in the top tax bracket, making more than $297,000 per year. After reaping endorsement money, he bought his family a large corner home in Center City last year, remodeling it with Italian marble floors. He sold his Range Rover (the house has a one-car garage), and he now just drives a kitted-out BMW M5. This week he’ll drive it cross-country in the exclusive Gumball race, a real-life Cannonball Run for high-rollers, with its $14,000 entry fee and a grand finale party at the Playboy Mansion. He travels around the world extensively, but Kalis still refers to Philadelphia, and especially Love Park, as his home.
But he might be moving.
Because of Love Park's imminent renovations, which, according to rumors at press time, were scheduled to get under way this week, Kalis says he's unsure about the future of Philadelphia skateboarding. If he does leave, he'll sell his home and take his family -- and his six-figure income -- somewhere else.
"The only real skate attraction here is Love Park," says Kalis. "And even if they were to build something to replace it, the way things are going, it's not gonna be the same. ... I don't know if I'm gonna end up staying here or not."
And it's not just the ones who skate who would be affected by "losing" Love Park. Photographer Ryan Gee moved here from North Jersey in 1995. "The first time I came here was for a contest in 1994 at Love, and now I live here. And I'm making a living."
Gee, 26, says that he was looking to buy a home by the end of the year, "but now I don't even know" because of Love's renovations. "It doesn't really affect me, but it affects a lot of skaters who I shoot with. All the top pros I'm working with, if they decide to leave, that's gonna affect me." Love is an essential training ground, he says, and "if no one has that, people could move out."
He says he wishes, of course, that the city would "wake up" and understand the "positive effects" that Love offers -- a sort of specialized urban playground that draws a pool of skateboard tourists, new residents and even a few of the money-making machines within the $1.5-billion-a-year industry. "The city should start something right now, get their ass in gear, provide [a place] for the skaters. We make livings off of this. People are taking away our jobs so people can sit [in Love Park] and eat lunch. We pay taxes here, we pay a lot of taxes. We drive BMWs. It's not a hobby sport, it's a big deal. I make a six-digit income as a skate photographer."
Recently, a photo Gee shot at Love ran on the cover of TransWorld Skateboarding, skating's largest-circulation magazine, owned by AOL Time Warner. Gee is a staff photographer.
Since the late '80s, skateboarders have been the main users of the park. Kalis remembers his first visit then: "A few people were skating, and there were tons and tons of homeless people and rats, garbage."
By the early '90s, he says, the park was "deserted except for skateboarders. Skate heaven. But the world didn't know about it then. It was Philadelphia's secret."
Around that time, Love Park began its ascent into skateboarding's hallowed hall of skate spots. He visited in the summer of '92, and ended up staying for nearly two years. Skaters flocked to the park for daylong, uninterrupted sessions. "I remember we'd skate private property in the city, and the cops would come and kick us out and tell us to go to Love," says Kalis.
In 1994, the city passed its first ordinance regulating skating, forbidding it from the newly renovated Municipal Services Building plaza. The city held off from banning it in other areas as it sought a suitable alternative. Much of this help came from former Mayor Ed Rendell, whose son Jesse skated. Rendell pressed City Council and police to work with the skaters at Love, eventually making an oral agreement that skaters were only personae non gratae during business hours.
But in 2000, the city outlawed skating on all public property. And now, the proposed changes to Love, and further modifications due next year, will add green space, among other things, effectually limiting the real estate used by skateboarders. The push to beautify Love Park came around the same time that construction began on the adjacent Phoenix luxury apartments at 16th and Arch. Much of the park will still be skateable, but for those who've grown up skating the park or moved here to do so -- the ones who repeatedly call Love "home" -- it was the final weekend for Love as they know it.
Kalis, who says he credits his career to skating Philadelphia, put a photo of Love Park on the box of his first signature skate shoe for DC Shoe Co. Signature shoes are generally said to be the endorsement cash cow in skateboarding; more than 100,000 shoes were produced for his 2000 debut and he's now on his third version.
Offhandedly, he counts off 26 people who, since the mid-1990s, could credit their careers in skating to living in the city and skating at Love, whether by skating professionally or shooting photos or video.
Of the majority of those still living here, Kalis predicts that "half those people won't even live here anymore" if the city ruins Love for skating.
Besides an exodus, Kalis says he sees the renovations at Love Park as the curtain call for the city in skateboarding's limelight. "For damn sure no more pros are gonna want to stop by. They're just gonna go to New York." In contrast to many industries, Kalis says, "Philly took over the New York scene, the D.C. scene" in the past five years, but that would end.
"It's a misjudgment doing this," says Kalis. "It's been only in the last three or four years that its popularity has gotten like this, and look what it's got the city already. Love Park really became popular in the world. In that time, they got Love in the number-one selling video game of all time, the X games, skaters who've moved here and bought houses -- how many people come here to visit? Japan, Australia, Europe, for Philly's number-one attraction for people 30 years and under."
"Most of the kids who go to school here who skate come because of Love Park," says Gee. "If Love wasn't here, they'd go[to college] somewhere else. That's a lot of income for the city."
Nino Scalia, 24, commutes from South Philadelphia to his NYC job as marketing director for Zoo York Skateboards, a subsidiary of Ecko Unltd. clothing, a $300-million-per-year company. "It's a shame," says Scalia of the city's possible loss of appeal to skateboarders, "because skateboarding breeds so much more than just skateboard talent. It breeds creativity in so many directions: arts, business, music. The whole skateboarding business is run by skateboarders, not business people. I think my business sense is through skateboarding. I'm holding a position higher than a college graduate with a marketing degree right now."
He says he won't move regardless of Love's outcome, but says he thinks a lot of people would.
Regarding the two-year X Games contract the city has with ESPN, Kalis elaborates on something City Paper reported last year ("X-tenuating Circumstances," Rick Valenzuela, Aug. 16, 2001). "I know that if Love Park was never in Philadelphia, and skateboarders weren't in Love Park, then ESPN would never have had the slightest attraction to Philadelphia. Love Park made that deal with ESPN. There's a lot of professional skateboarders who live here. And if wasn't for them, the city wouldn't have gotten their $40 million," he says, referring to the estimated economic impact on the city during last year's weeklong X Games.
He says he still has hope for the continuation of Love Park's skateboard legacy, "but no matter how much press, how many interviews of people saying that skateboarding and Love Park should be there, there's a certain group of people who control it who are gonna [redesign Love] anyway. That group of people is like, "No way, we're not [listening to skaters]."
Besides losing the anchor to Philadelphia's skateboarding community, to some, the end of Love as it is will also mean the loss of a devoted city park with many memories. Zeb Snyder says he moved to the city from Lower Merion in 1997 because he was "sick of taking the train back and forth every day. And now I'm planning on making my exit. I think a lot of people who really have spent a lot of time in there are going to."
Snyder, who's 23 and works at Sub Zero skateboard shop near South Street, says he "grew up skating" at Love and, because of that, the park holds a special place in his heart. "I think when I'm older I'll look at this and say this is the best time of my life, skating at Love."