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Source: Salt Lake City Weekly
Date: June 30, 2005
Byline: Jamie Gadette


Skate Expectations

With the right price tag, Salt Lake City could open a skate park unlike any other.

Arthur Healey will never be confused for skateboarding legends Stacey Peralta, Tony Alva or Tony Hawk. The 20-year-old Salt Lake City resident is a self-proclaimed klutz on wheels, unable to jump benches or clear rails with his street-savvy peers. Weak skills, however, won't stop him from making a sound impact on local skate culture. Healey is developing plans for a downtown skate park designed unlike any of the city's existing facilities. Funding the large-scale project might be the biggest trick Healey's ever tried to pull off.

Healey coordinates jobs for Mebeck Skateboards from a closet-size office in Draper. He sits at a cluttered desk, wading through messages from nonprofits and skateboarding companies advocating for more skate parks. Healey pushes up his black-framed glasses and reaches down to pick up a bright pink skateboard.

"I understand how to get this stuff rolling," he says, tracing the board's glossy finish. "I make it so other kids can be great."

Healey devised the concept for a revamped skate park after visiting Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Plaza, better known as Love Park. The landmark once served as a popular skateboarding venue, attracting skaters from Japan to California with its challenging staircases, ledges, rails and benches — elements that facilitate street-style skating. In 2002, Philadelphia Mayor John Street banned skateboarding in the public plaza and remodeled the park to make it unsuitable for skaters.

Love Park remains an icon in the skateboarding community, representing a skate style that is different than those popularized in the '70s. Concrete bowls fashioned after drained swimming pools are tailored for "transition" skateboarding, a style appropriated by typical skate parks. Most kids, however, prefer to hone their skills in the streets.

"It's a lot more fun to have a spot downtown to skate, whether it's legal or illegal," says Ogden resident Lance Palmer, 25, adding that he often forgoes Salt Lake City's new skate parks to skateboard on public property.

"You go skateboarding because you want real street spots. If you go to a skate park, it's filled with bowls — that's not realistic terrain. You want to skate stairs and handrails and ledges," says Salt Lake City resident and City Weekly employee Josh Wangrud, 25. "That's where they lack when they build skate parks — there's no real live street scenarios."

Scott Kip, president of the Skateboarding Advocacy Network, thinks skate parks fail to address the more subtle side of skateboarding. "Most skateboarding occurs in the space between your knee and the ground," he says, calling from his home office in Philadelphia. "Skaters need a place to practice their flat ground tricks. Skating in a bowl and skating somewhere with a bunch of benches is a totally different sensation. One set of skills you learn for one style don't really help you with the other."

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has tried to keep up with the needs of his youthful constituents. Unlike Mayor Street, he believes skaters have more to offer to the city than damaged property. Anderson supported construction of two skateboarding facilities, Fairmont Skate Park and Jordan Skate Park, both of which relied on public funds through community development block grants.

Rick Graham, director of public services for Salt Lake City, oversaw construction of Fairmont and Jordan, requesting input and comment on their design from local skaters. While he hasn't seen Healey's skate-plaza proposal, he's open to the idea. In fact, Graham prefers to create parks that stray from tradition.

"We didn't want to cookie-cut these facilities," he says. Graham adds that Healey's proposal to build a facility near downtown mirrors his original intent to provide skate-park access to residents from Sugar House to Rose Park. City officials recently requested additional funding through the City Council — money that could be applied to Healey's skate plaza as long as it meets standards of safety and maintainability.

There is one glitch in this potential collaboration: While Fairmont and Jordan came with $300,000 and $230,000 price tags, respectively, Healey estimates the cost of his proposed skate plaza at $1.5 million.

While the disparity seems daunting, Graham isn't ruling out anything yet.

"A lot depends on what the public is recommending," he says. "As far as cost is concerned, a skate park, like any other improvement, has to be weighed against all other city capital needs. We measure what anyone proposes compared to the resources we have."

For now, local skaters will mine their own limited resources, riding bowls or risking fines and even jail time by turning public property into unofficial skate plazas. That is, unless Healey's "park" becomes a reality.

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