Back in mid-October, Charleston County made a tantalizing announcement for local skaters: Team Pain, a legendary skatepark design company from Florida, had been tapped to dream up a new park near the intersection of Meeting and Huger streets. Even better news: The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission had already set aside $2 million from its savings to fund the project.
It seemed like the cosmos were finally aligned for a world-class skatepark to arrive in downtown Charleston. So why aren't skaters hitting pristine vert ramps and shredding cement bowls in the shadow of the I-26 overpass today? CCPRC director Tom O'Rourke says it has to do with the bureaucratic nightmare of dealing with not only the S.C. Department of Transportation, but the federal DOT as well. Even over the phone, his frustration is palpable.
The city owns the land where the park is slated to be built and has planned to use it for the park, but since it falls in the right-of-way for roads maintained at both the state and federal levels, the county must conduct an array of feasibility and safety studies before being allowed to pour a single drop of concrete. So far, the county has spent $53,000 on DOT-mandated studies. O'Rourke says the state and federal agencies have placed a roughly equal burden on the county so far, and the latest round of demands includes a seismic safety study, further drainage studies, proof that the skatepark will function as a nonprofit enterprise, and something called an airspace lease agreement. "I don't even know what that means," O'Rourke says of the final stipulation.
O'Rourke says the CCPRC will still be able to build within a $2 million budget, but even more galling than the initial money investment is the time investment. "We promised a lot of people a long time ago that we were going to build a skatepark," he says. "And you know what? They don't give a crap about any kind of politics or bureaucracy or the Highway Department. They want to skate, and I actually don't blame them."
On Monday, O'Rourke will meet with city officials to discuss the most recent laundry list of concerns from the twin DOTs and see how much more legwork the City thinks is worthwhile to put in for the site. If the demands prove too onerous, he says, they could scrap the site altogether and start work on a less politically complicated site either downtown or elsewhere in the county. Still, he says the City has shown a willingness to work with the DOTs on the county's behalf, and he is heartened by Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.'s consistent support of the goal of opening a skatepark.
"I've seen Mayor Riley pull rabbits out of his hat," O'Rourke says. "I've seen him pull off things that I think are impossible, and I'm not going to be negative until we have made some kind of final decision."
O'Rourke says the deadline for comments from the DOTs is April 8, so he should be able to announce a final decision about the site soon. Team Pain will wait to draw up blueprints until after a site is finalized and public-input meetings have been held.
"If this site isn't going to work, we don't want to be there," O'Rourke says. "We do not want a substandard skatepark in a small little footprint when we were all dreaming of something that was pretty big and awesome."