If the parks and recreation meeting wasn't exciting enough. The next series of events that unfolded were even more mind-blowing. As many Memphians may already know, the Hyde family has had a long tradition of being major philanthropic contributors to many wonderful attractions that we take for granted here in the city. They contributed to the Zoo, to the fine arts and are largely responsible for creating one of the finest baseball stadiums in the country. In short, their efforts to make Memphis a great place to live are legendary. Ok, back to the story. The Hydes have had a keen interest in trying to figure out how to keep working professionals, such as scientists like myself, from leaving Memphis once we are done with our work at St. Jude. This has been a major problem and Tom Jones recently wrote an article in the April issue of Memphis Magazine addressing this issue. He has posted it online on the Smart City blog if you want to check it out . I digress, the Hyde Foundation had Smart City Consulting lead a round-table discussion with about 25 St. Jude research scientists. Carol Colletta from Smart City lead the discussion while her business partner Tom Jones documented the interview. They wanted to know what Memphis was doing right for attracting new workers as well what sort of ammenities were missing. Bike trails and green space were high on the list of missing ammenities and this is where I had a chance to let Carol and Tom know that I was trying to establish a world-class skatepark.
Meeting with the RDC: A skatepark at Mud Island
I sent Carol and Tom a copy of the proposal and Tom and one of my colleagues met with him to unfold the vision behind the skatepark. I told him about the Parks and Recreation collaboration and he asked me where in my wildest dreams would I put the park if there were no political complications associated with choosing the spot. I told him on the Riverfront where we could show tourists that Memphis was proud of it's skaters and it's downtown!
So, he arranged a meeting with the Riverfront Developement corporation which operates and manages Tom Lee park. In that meeting we proposed the park and suggested Tom Lee as the park location. They were concerned about losing space for the Memphis in May festival- a valid concern but hey it was worth a shot but instead of Tom Lee, they suggested Mud Island Riverpark!
What? That's like the crown-jewel location of the city! I couldn't believe that they were open to that.
As it turns out, much to my suprise, the Riverpark has been suffering from neglect inspite of being meticulously taken care of- it's beautiful over there and my two boys could play in the minature Mississippi all day long. The problem with the Riverpark is that it's a one shot deal- you've seen it once and most likely you won't come back. So...having a highly healty addictive activity such as skateboarding would build a large base of people/skaters that would come on average as high as 100 times per year. Ski resorts base their existence on this similar phenomena. It makes sense, have hundreds of skaters come down, bring their friends. While young families with parents that skate would also come. And best of all, Mud island is a highly controlled environment that would ensure parents felt safe with their kids there. Let's just say that between the possibility of having concerts AND being able to skate , the situation just doesn't get much better. At this point it's still a dream until the bulldozer takes the first dig at making a bowl.
Meeting at the Hyde Foundation
The next meeting that Tom arranged for three of us scientists (Zach Baquet , Steve Zatechka and myself) was with the Hyde foundation. We proposed the park and all the potential impact it could have on the city. I think they really appreciated our enthusiasm and well thought out plan. From that meeting, the Foundation offered a grant for a feasibility study to be done by the RDC to assess the cost and all the other paper work that is involved in such a big project.
As of now (5-7-07) the RDC is putting together a study to present to the Hyde Foundation. Hopefully it will be completed by the end of this year. If we are fortunate they will have it done in the next few months. Keep hoping for the most expedient outcome! Parks and Recreation has been included on the study as additional sites for two smaller skateparks. That news came last week. That's it for now.
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