Sunday, January 20, 2008

Facing the brutal facts

I just finished a book about how companies make the transition from being Good to Great companies. One of the defining qualities of great companies is their to ability to face the brutal facts AND make the necessary adjustments while remaining true to their core mission.

It' time for us to do this for the skate park project.Why? Most skaters who know of this project continue to ask when the park is going to be done. But let's face the reality as it stands. It's going to be awhile.

Reality 1: We need a major government advocate that truly gets what a skate park does for the youth and the city
1. Louisville : It had it's Mayor as the major advocate: The idea was conceived in 1999 and the park was completed in 2002. The Mayor had access to deep pockets and completely understood the reality that a skate park was a low-cost/high impact facility for a city. 3 years is fast! We are approaching year 2 in August 2008.
2. Denver: A city council member was moved by the skater's committment and passion. It took 6 years from inception to completion. This project was still mired in controversy and disputes and the council member made certain this project did not die. These are the two largest skateparks in the U.S.
3. Memphis: We have some government and private leaders who are truly excited about the idea but are not completely certain if this is the best facility to put on Mud Island. For those who have not seen the passion, committment of skaters and are not truly in touch with just how big skating has become with the 15-40 year old age group, these are justifiable reservations for the amount of money this project costs.
$3 million is a "drop" in the bucket for government projects but that's a large barrier for us since we don't have it. If we had one individual that skated or had a son or daughter who skated (the Mayor of Louisville's son skated) then perhaps the funds would be released much quicker or meetings and reports would have a reason to move along faster. But we don't and so our project will continue to move at the same pace as most projects where the certainty of a successful outcome must be demonstrated by the "experts." The frustration? We already know we don't need an expert because we know the outcome. We're are not blazing a new high risk trail here like Louisville did at the time. They and are reaping the rewards with bringing families back to the city. After all they are ranked #1 for relocating families. We know the outcome and so do 800 other town/cities who are building their own skate parks just this year.

Reality #2 : A large skate park might be done by 2012 I don't see the project being done any sooner then this unless a major private donor plunks down a donation and says get this done in the next two years.
This is not going to happen.

Reality # 3 :Memphis is very behind in national health trends Let me first say that Memphis is wonderfully creative and vibrant place but when it comes to being in touch with larger scale trends it's painfully slow. The case in point is it's plans to finally get a large scale bike path and running trail in place.This was cutting edge in the 1980s. This has been in the works for two decades and we finally received a small city grant to get this done-why? There is little incentive for developers to do this as there is no incentive to put skate parks in new neighborhoods. That's why we have layers and layers of the same design motif built decade after decade. Build it, increase tax base, move east and repeat the process. If you don't have the cash or a strong leadership in touch with what's going on then good luck changing anything. It's a fact of life and that's the way it works.
So, after almost every other city has a green space plan, Memphis leaders are forced to evaluate and implement their own version here to save face and avoid complete embarrassment. That's the sad part, skate parks are still cutting edge (especially big ones) which means it could be two more decades if we were to allow our government leaders to "discover" the blaring economic impact of a skatepark. By then every city would already have one and the economic impact would be marginalized so at that point then it would make sense to have one here since that seems to be logic these days. To be fair this phenomena is not uncommon which makes you appreciate the type of pull and vision that the Mayor of Louisville must have had to get the largest park built in his city. In two more decades skateparks will be commonplace when the skaters will eventually occupy higher level positions in government- this reality already exists in California where almost every town has at least one skatepark. You don't need crystal ball just look west and observe as the frequency of skateparks proportionally increases the further West you go.

These are some of the brutal facts that we must acknowledge but we (I) must not forget that some great things have happened.

1. City parks is still receptive and wanting to work with us.
2. The Hyde foundation granted RDC the funds for a feasibility study. They are excited about the project.
3. The RDC is still interested and pursuing the Mud Island park but the projects must
be seen as the "best land use" for the south end. This will take a year to determine by an "expert".

What are we to do?
1. Wait for the big skate park to unfold
2. Build a smaller park and raise these funds entirely through a grass roots effort and maybe getting some midsize donations. My next blog will discuss these plans and I will need your input. If all goes well this park would be done in 1-2 years. We'll see. Stay tuned!


fearlessvk said...

your reality check is, of course, a bit disappointing, but i'm looking forward to hearing about the plans for a smaller park...

kimc said...

I have to disagree with the wait and let it "unfold" attitude. Getting a skatepark in your community takes a proactive approach. Otherwise, how is your city to understand the need?

Setting an attainable goal is a very important step in the process. So a smaller park? Go for it, who is to say that you can't expand the following year once the city sees the overwhelming response? You should check out this site: This website has a wealth of information and is run by skateboarders who have been involved with successful skatepark projects.

gatesofmemphis said...

Did the feasibility study happen? Is it available?