At long last, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission is getting the wheels rolling on the design and permitting process for a new, 40,000-square-foot downtown skatepark near the intersection of Meeting and Huger streets. The county agency says it should take about a year to design, and after that, construction should take less than a year.
The county has enlisted the help of Team Pain, a legendary Florida-based skatepark design company, to lay out the park. Tito Porrata, the lead designer for the Charleston project, says everyone at the company skates, and they plan to work with the county on organizing some public-input sessions, both with skaters and with nearby neighborhood leaders. So what's in the works?
"Right now, we're discussing about adding a kind of a flow, a snake-style section — like a snake run," Porrata says. "It's a modern version of the old '70s snake run, just applying a modern-day approach to it." A recently completed Team Pain project in Arvada, Colo., features a snake run, although it is much larger than the one they are considering for the Charleston park. “They just had this grand opening that was blowing people’s heads off,” he says.
The park will also likely include both professional-level bowls and mid-level, mini-ramp-style bowls. On the flatland side, there will be a long, street-style plaza. "It mimics the experience of being able to skate down the street, but with a lot of really fun skatepark obstacles," Porrata says.
He adds that the public-input meetings will be important both for the designers and the users. "After so many decades of skateboarding being stereotyped as such a fringe type of sport or a lifestyle, suddenly municipalities are coming to the table and providing these facilities," Porrata says. "So it's important as an educational process for the municipalities to kind of see the user groups that are going to be partaking in these activities and these facilities. It's also really good for the users themselves to learn about the municipal process."
About that municipal process: It's been more than 13 months since Park and Rec approved a $2 million budget for the park, drawing from the agency's reserve fund without spending any tax dollars. In October, skaters received the mouth-watering news that Team Pain had signed on to the project, but since then, Park and Rec has been slogging through an ever-expanding list of requirements from the Federal Highway Administration and the S.C. Department of Transportation.
The difficulty arose because the site for the park is near — and partly underneath — the overpasses for Highway 17 and Interstate 26, and the state and federal highway departments are rather persnickety about any construction that goes on near their roads. They won't give their blessing to the skatepark until they can look at a finalized blueprint, and the county agency was hesitant to sink the money in the design and permitting stage if there was a possibility that the site wouldn't be approved. But Tom O'Rourke, executive director of Park and Rec, is now confident that he'll be able to get the plans approved once they are finished.
"We are taking a risk because we don't have a formal approval," O'Rourke says, "but I feel like we're not taking a risk at all, because every single issue has been laid out on the table as far as what they needed to have, and we have met every one of those issues."
One of the biggest hangups, O'Rourke says, was making sure that trucks and cranes could access the overpasses in cases of emergency and routine maintenance. He says the concrete is going to have to be thicker than originally planned, so as to accommodate the heavy equipment. The crane-parking issue will also affect the flow of the park. "Actually, that's not a bad thing. That's a good thing," O'Rourke says. "We thought we were going to have to break up the skatepark, like an element over on one side and an element over on the other side, but we aren't. You're going to be able to circle around all of it, and that's going to make it a whole lot better for the skaters, but that's also going to be the path for trucks to get through."
The highway departments placed certain limitations on how close the park could get to the overpass supports, and O'Rourke was worried that those strictures would effectively shrink the size of the park. But he says they have been able to reach a compromise, and the park will still meet the minimum size requirement envisioned by the county.