Last year an article came out that reported on less then stellar skate attendance numbers at one of the "larger" parks in the Atlanta area. The article was pointing out that the city was not making it's budget numbers on the newly minted Brooks run skate park that opened in 2007.
Let's do some investigating to see if we can come up with some answers that might help this community address some of these concerns.
Misunderstanding the role of a skate park
First of all, as the past proved, skate parks are not good sources of revenues. Many of our finest concrete skate parks closed down in the 1980's because they could no longer afford the liability insurance. The re-emergence of skate parks can be largely attributed to the migration of skate parks into the public realm. Cities can afford the lighting and umbrella the liability into their existing insurance policies. Bottom line, most of the best skate parks in the country are free and talking about revenues associated with a skate park is like talking about how much money you can make charging people to play baseball at your local neighborhood park.
Skate parks are public space and should be free, especially neighborhood skate parks. The return on your investment for skate parks is an improved quality of life for its citizens.
Overblown or unrealistic expectations
This park was touted as a premier park when in reality it was an oversized neighborhood park that became very unappealing to the skaters because of the availability of nearby skate parks that had no fees or pad restrictions.
Kris Gurley says it best:
"I see this as an idea that got blown out of proportion and then executed in a half-assed fashion. They state that it was originally conceived as a small park and then expanded it later. I think it's a combination of someone filling their heads with pipe dreams and the powers that built it whittling it down to just an average park while still expecting to sit back and rake in the money. Brook Run doesn't offer enough incentive to pull people away from the other parks in the area."
Or perhaps you like a food analogy. Kris says:
"If you wanted a milkshake and you saw a guy selling a 16oz. shake for a dollar or you could get a 14oz shake for free just down the street, which would you chose?"
The lesson learned is if you have a number of quality competing parks that are free, you had better offer a pretty amazing skate park if you expect to charge for skating.
Memphis is in a great position for now since we really don't have any high quality skate parks to chose from but that will change as we continue to advocate for and build more skate parks in the region. The Mud Island skate park will need to be sizable and offer a skating experiencing that will not be duplicated elsewhere. It will have an entirely different role then a small to medium sized park.
Brooks run is nice midsized neighbhor hood park for an outlying suburb town of Atlanta, not a premier destination skate park as it has been touted. The article simply reports this reality and then suggests the park is struggling.
If you are going to build a premier skate park , assuming that it actually is a premier park, then build it where it can be seen by many. A large skate park belongs downtown where it is visible and can be enjoyed by the viewer and the participant. This skate park is 18 miles from downtown Atlanta.
The civic bottom line: Quality of Life
IMHO a skate park on Mud Island is there to bring people back to the Island and allow River park and Downtown businesses to flourish as a result of that influx of new visitors. Perhaps the River Park will charge a nominal fee, but if we design this park as ALL of US want it designed then it will be worth it.
Personally I would like to see the park have no fee but a small fee could be a good compromise if it means the park is safer and we can keep the lights on. The critical task for the RDC is to clearly articulate the role of the skate park. The project is more about improving the quality of life of it's citizens and less about making a big buck on the island. That's what was promised the first time around.
The RDC will need to inspire the City Council and Memphis citizens by helping them see success as having a wonderful River park that shouts out to travelers going buy that Memphis "get's it." We already know we are a cool city but why not let them see it from the M-bridge?