Over the last few years, plans to create a public skatepark in Memphis have gone from nonexistent to certain and back again. Though the city first approved the project's $440,000 budget in 2008, conflict over the park's location has stalled the project. But last week, Memphis mayor A C Wharton's announcement that Tobey Park would become home to the skatepark allowed advocates to breathe a sigh of relief.
"I'm so happy that we've got a mayor who responds to the needs of the city's people," says Aaron Shafer, founder of SkateLife Memphis, the organization that led the charge for a skatepark. SkateLife's series of events and demonstrations has brought the skating community out in full force.
"Obviously, it's needed," says Matt Wright, founder and executive director of FaithSkate Ministry, which has set up temporary skating ramps in the parking lot of the Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett every other weekend for the last three years. Like Shafer, Wright is a longtime skateboarder who's worked to create opportunities for Memphis skaters.
"It even surprised me how much response there was," Wright says of the program's popularity, which grew from five to 35 kids in the first few months. "We weren't marketing it at all. It just shows you what a need there is for kids to skate here in Memphis."
Wharton emphasized the skatepark's potential for helping local youth be more physically fit, something Wright and Shafer have been saying for years.
"Other sports are celebrated by the community," Wright says. "You see hundreds of kids playing baseball in one place, but the skateboarding community is fragmented. There's nowhere to tell them to go."
Shafer says Tobey Park is a perfect location for what he hopes will be a community-wide attraction, especially in light of the nearby dog park and other proposed developments in the area.
"There's been a lot of interest from the non-skating community," he say. "We're interested in bringing people together from different parts of Memphis."
The enthusiasm shown by groups such as FaithSkate and the public has proven to Shafer that the park's programming can do just that.
Local firm Askew Hargraves Harcourt & Associates will partner with national skatepark designers Wormhoudt Incorporated to work on the park, and the UrbanArt Commission has been tapped for an on-site public art project.
"There's that cliche saying that it takes a village to raise a child," Shafer says. "I'd say the same for making a skatepark."