Friday, March 20, 2009

Summary of focus group meeting with RDC consultants

Last Monday we had our first meeting with the Consilience group, a local consulting firm that is carrying out the public master planning study/process for Mud Island River park.

The meeting was held at the Pearl Oyster House last Monday evening. Part of our small group was made up of individuals who have been involved in the Memphis skate community efforts including Ron Hale,Mike Lasiter and Shannon. Also attending was the Summers Family who recently relocated from Louisville to Memphis. This included Janet Summers and her husband, Jon and their three boys , Jared,Wesley and Branson (who all skateboard). They brought with them a wealth of experience regarding the success and the issues associated with a large skate park- the Louisville extreme park. Enid Bedford from the Healthy Memphis Common table attended the meeting. One of Healthy Memphis's main goals is to help encourage more healthy lifestyle's among the Memphis youth. This is a critical effort since 1/3 of our youth are considered physically obese. Enid didn't skateboard but by the end of the meeting she really appreciated what a skate park could do to help move their own efforts forward. Also, attending was Ossie Lewis who is the director of the Ed Rice Community Center in Frayser. I met Ossie last year at the Parks and Recreation Skate park demo at the Fairgrounds. He has been a huge advocate for bringing skateboarding into the Memphis African American community. His son is a skate boarder and Ossie truly understands the potential that skate boarding holds for our Memphis youth. Matt Wright and Brad Wood also attended. They recently started a skate outreach ministry for their church. They started with two rickety old ramps and a few skateboarders: 6 months later, by word of mouth, they have 40 skateboarders coming to their events. Kris Gurley also attended, he is a outspoken articulate advocate for skateboarding and one of his letters made it into skateboarding magazine a few months ago . We missed not having Terry Kerr, Josh Lowry, Brad Sizemore, Erich Bambei, Binger, Abe, Shannon and many others.


Ossie Lewis
Ossie spoke with authority about how a skate park on Mud Island could put us in the national spot light as a major destination for recreational enthusiasts. He also mentioned how overwhelmed he still was from the skate demo we had last April at the Fairgrounds. He said in all his 30 years working for Parks and Recreation, he had never seen a single activity bring so many youth from different cultures together under a single roof. Personally just for Ossie's enthusiasm alone, I think his community center warrants its own little skate park.

Matt,Brad and Kris emphatically made the point that the RDC would have no problem attracting visitors to the park.

Matt shared a story of discovering a well-contructed concrete park in the middle of a tiny IOWA farm town. Matt wondered why Memphis was struggling to grasp how mainstream skateboarding has become. His point was that if a bunch of farmers and country folk are aware of what their youth are doing than why has this been lost on Memphis?

One of my points raised was how successful does the RDC want to be ? If they are looking to attract Memphians, visitors from the Tri-state area and participants from around the globe, then they need not look any further then building a world-class skate park. My apologies for using the term "world-class" but in this case it actually applies.

Security and safety
The Summers family spoke quite frankly about the security and safety issues associated with the Louisville Extreme park. It was their discussion that truly brought out Mud Island River park's major asset- it's limited and restricted access. The family said that Louisville is well lit and safe from crime but that fights occasionally break out among vagrants and skateboarders. They also said collisions between bikers and skateboarders were the major cause of injury. What impressed the Summers about Mud Island was that these issues could be directly addressed by having a skate pass system. If the skate park rules are not followed by participants, they simply lose their skate pass. This can be enforced since visitors must go through existing check points to access the River park. Shannon Dixon, the Consilience moderator, was visibly surprised and impressed by how we saw the lack of access to the park as a major and critical asset to the skate park's success. She mentioned that we were the only group that saw this as an asset. Bam!

Other ideas

Enid from HMCT mentioned the idea of having work-out facilities for parents. Great idea! Better yet have skateboarding and rollerblading classes where both parents and the kids are enrolled. Kris Gurley mentioned this is already a family activity and P.E class in some Colorado and California communities. Water playgrounds with fountains for the smaller kids to run through were mentioned to keep everyone cooled off in the summer. Kris mentioned that some water playgrounds double in the winter as regular rubberized playgrounds.

Conclusion- KISS- keep it simple S.

The general consensus was that the Skate Park would totally complement and revitalize existing River park facilities. That's a huge bonus because the city spent, in today's dollars, $213 million to build the current Riverpark facilities. The last point I made was that the new baseball league in town are the skateboarders. We outnumber the total number of Memphis baseball players and yet we have zero facilities compared to their 48 fields. The point was not made to elicit sympathy or the presence of a violinist but to open their eyes to a huge opportunity awaiting RDC.

Be there

Please support us and help make this effort become a reality by attending one of the public meetings coming up very soon. Go to the RDC website for dates and times for the meetings.

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