|Boarding Call: A Center City Skatepark finally gets rolling
|SOURCE : Philadelphia Weekly
DATE : May 5, 2007
BYLINE : Cassidy Hartmann
When Josh Nims talks about the Paine’s Park Project, he often gets emotional. As he stood before
approximately 100 friends, family and potential donors at James restaurant last month, Nims, with trembling
voice, spoke the names of those who’ve helped the proposed 2.5-acre skatepark—slated for construction just
southwest of the Art Museum—evolve from well-meaning idea to viable reality.
“Part of me takes it so personally, and part of me knows this is bigger than me,” says Nims, 32, who’s been
working on the project for seven years. “When multiple people are willing to push hard for this project, it starts
to get some gravity—and that’s happening now.”
When LOVE Park was closed to skateboarders in 2002, a uniquely Philadelphian community was displaced.
Street skaters—most of whom skate on existing surfaces such as concrete edges and rails, rather than on
ramps—were forced to move to outlying areas of the city, congregating primarily at FDR Park in far South Philly.
But Nims, like many skateboarders uninterested in the half-pipes and relative isolation of FDR, longed for a
space where the street skateboarding culture could be more integrated with the city. So in 2001 Nims and
several skateboarding friends formed Franklin’s Paine (a name Nims conjured from the two Philadelphians
he most admires), and he’s since been working to create a safe place for Philadelphia skating culture to thrive.
There was major progress in 2003, when the city donated a 2.5-acre triangle of land nestled between the
Schuylkill River Trail and the Art Museum for the construction of a skatepark. Lauded local architect Tony
Bracali created a design, which incorporated ramps, steps and old granite benches like those in LOVE Park,
as well as an amphitheater and additional public green space for nonskaters to enjoy. But the project stalled
after that, when the price tag for completion came in at $6 million.
Enter Christopher Plant—a real estate agent, former skateboarder and father of two young boys, who got word
of the project and immediately wanted to get involved.
“I wanted Philadelphia to be a cool place for my kids. FDR is not the sort of place you’d want your 12-year-olds
to hang out by themselves,” says Plant. “Also, Philadelphia is definitely going through a renaissance, and I
want to make sure it’s not all about the museum or the Franklin Institute or condo development.”
Soon after Plant’s arrival last year, Franklin’s Paine also gained executive director Jamie Elfant, who came on
board to head up fundraising efforts.
“We have to do something to keep young people active and interested,” says Elfant, who’s 24 and not a
skateboarder. “Philadelphia has a problem retaining young people because they feel like they don’t have
enough opportunities here.”
With the addition of Plant and Elfant, the Paine’s Park Project has found new life. The project raised $5,000 at
the soft launch at James, and much larger fundraising efforts are underway. Elfant and Plant have met with
members of the Commerce Department and the Parkway Council, and are reaching out daily to potential grant
sources and donors.
“The money is there; the enthusiasm is there. We just have to figure out how to have it properly allocated,”
The project’s official launch is Tuesday at the riverside Water Works Restaurant, where hors d’oeuvres will be
served and the group will present information on the project and lead a tour of the park site. The goal is to
raise awareness of the project, which they hope will spark funding.
In support of Paine’s Park, the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, where Nims now works as
operations manager, has donated part of its pristine office space to Franklin’s Paine. Looking out over the
skatepark’s now-barren plot of land from the soaring heights of the Cira Centre, Nims can barely contain his
excitement about the progress now being made.
“What’s so clear from this vantage point is this project isn’t really about skateboarding anymore,” he says.
“Now it’s obvious it’s this huge site of connection—whether it’s Martin Luther King Drive connecting to the trail,
or it’s Eakins Oval, the Water Works, Kelly Drive or the new Comcast tower being built at JFK—what it would
become is a new nexus of physical movement. I feel like we’re right on the edge.”