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Skate Life

Proposed skate park lands its first trick.



After 23 years, two knee surgeries, and a dislocated elbow, Mike Lasiter still skateboards.

"It's just like anything you love — you're going to find a way to keep doing it," he says. "Especially with Campbell Clinic to keep you going."

Lasiter, operations manager for Mid-South Homebuyers, is part of a group that, led by Californian Aaron Shafer, has been advocating the creation of a city skate park for more than a year.

A production/process development scientist at St. Jude, Shafer moved to Memphis two years ago.

"I expected to see three or four skate parks peppered throughout the city because that was my reality," Shafer says. "In the Bay Area [of San Francisco], you've got 20 parks to choose from. In roughly the same size area, Shelby County has one."

That realization left him shocked and bummed about his new home.

"It was already a big sacrifice coming here," he says. "I can give up surfing and the ocean, but not being able to skate was too much."

He decided to start a movement; he launched a website in September 2006 and met with representatives of the city's park services division two months later.

"They were pretty amenable to the idea. I presented myself as a working professional coming in from the outside, saying these are the sorts of amenities available in other parts of the United States," Shafer says.

Parks services director Cindy Buchanan says the city became interested in building a skate park more than five years ago. In its earlier incarnation, the park was to be located at the Mid-South Fairgrounds, but for whatever reason, it never came to fruition.

Now skateboarders are getting another chance. When the City Council approved its 2009 budget last month, it included $440,000 to build an 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot skate park.

Buchanan says the park is still in the concept phase — the city needs time to explore all the legal and liability issues related to it.

"This is the first one," Buchanan says. "We're probably going to take a lot of time to make sure we do everything right."

In April, the city hosted a well-attended rally at the Fairgrounds to determine how much interest a skate park would generate. Buchanan was surprised by how young some of the skaters were — no older than toddlers, really — and participants ranged from those young children to middle-aged adults.

"It verified that people weren't just saying, oh, yeah, we'd love to have one. I was pleased to see how many people came to show solidarity," she says. "This skate park is another amenity that we can provide for the citizens. ... We want to get something out there so skateboarders won't get in trouble doing the recreational activity they love."

Though a location has not yet been determined, Shafer's preference is inside Overton Park. In a survey of local skateboarders and alternadads (and moms), Overton Park also was the favorite. Other suggestions included Audubon Park and Tobey Park near the Fairgrounds.

An 8,000-square-foot park will be able to accommodate about 20 to 40 skaters safely. "Otherwise," Shafer says, "it will be pandemonium."

He estimates that Memphis has roughly 2,000 skaters who skate every day, mostly on the street and on homemade ramps.

In addition to the city park, Shafer is working with the Hyde Foundation and the Riverfront Development Corporation to develop another skate park — a larger, regional one — on Mud Island.

"I think it's more than a skate park. I think it's about amenities available to young families," Shafer says.

In the meantime, Shafer has built a half-pipe in the backyard of his Midtown home.

"It's a place where you can forget about your daily concerns and burn off a lot of stress," Shafer says. "It's a meditative sport, because you're so focused on what you're doing."

And, as Lasiter says, people will find a way to do what they love, no matter what.

"Kids need a place to go," Lasiter says. "Otherwise, they're going to be terrorizing commercial property. [A skate park] is to everybody's benefit."

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