Skateboarders frustrated by the lack of progress on a plan to build a downtown skatepark will get a chance to speak their minds at a meeting of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission tonight. Four plans for the future of the stalled park project will be on the table, and local skate advocates plan to pack out the meeting.
The commission meeting begins at 5:30 tonight at CCPRC headquarters in front of the James Island County Park (861 Riverland Drive, Charleston).
One of the advocates who plans to show up is Shannon Smith, president of Pour It Now, a group that got the ball rolling on the project years ago by collecting thousands of signatures on a petition. "We've already waited," Smith says. "I have a 10-year-old now that was on my hip when I started this process. And now we have finally gotten to the place where we have found funding by a reputable company, the PRC, and we're still getting jerked around. It's out of control."
Over three years ago, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission set aside $2 million in reserve funds (from ticket and concession sales, not tax dollars) to pay for design and construction of a 40,000-square-foot skatepark near the intersection of Huger and Meeting streets. About a year ago, the project entered the design phase as Park and Rec enlisted the help of skatepark design company Team Pain. Today, not a drop of concrete has been poured.
Tom O'Rourke, executive director of Park and Rec, says the park designers continue to encounter new obstacles from government agencies including the state and federal Department of Transportation. The land proposed for the park is near overpasses for I-26 and US-17, so the designers have been navigating a labyrinth of regulations about seismic safety, drainage, concrete thickness, and airspace usage. O'Rourke says a recent cost estimate that included all the required improvements put the price tag at $3.8 million. So, O'Rourke says, "We would have to find 1.8 million more dollars — which wasn't going to happen — or we were going to take this wonderful vision of a 30,000-plus-square-foot skatepark and turn it into a 1,000-square-foot skatepark that was really just not good. And I didn't want to do that."
O'Rourke says four options will be up for discussion at tonight's meeting:
1. Continue with the design phase for the original site under the overpasses.
2. Plan to build at an alternate site at 13 Romney St. The City of Charleston and Park and Rec have been eyeing the current home of the Charleston County Recycling Center as a new location for the skatepark. O'Rourke says that, while the site offers a downtown location and ample space, the problem remains that the recycling center is still there. Until the county moves the recycling center to a new location, the skatepark would have to wait.
3. Buy land in the Neck, near the northern end of Rutledge Avenue and a little-known "bridge to nowhere" that connects to Petty Street in the stalled Magnolia development project. O'Rourke says this piece of land would be smaller and would have to be purchased, taking away from the available construction budget.
4. Build on PRC-owned land in front of the James Island County Park where College of Charleston students currently play intermural sports. "We'd have all the room we need. We could get really creative with the plan," O'Rourke says. "Put it this way: It would be more area than any of the sites we've looked at."
O'Rourke says he understands the frustration of people who have waited years for a skatepark and seen little progress. "Even though there are reasons that it's taken this long, it's still just so frustrating to everybody that a long time ago we had appropriated money to build this park, and really we're no farther along today than we were then," O'Rourke says. "We don't even have a site. And we can sit around and make excuses and say all kinds of stuff, or we can suck it up and find a site. And I think that's what's going to happen on Monday."