by Jeremy Morrison
The dream of a “destination, iconic skatepark” is closer to becoming reality, following the Pensacola City Council’s nod toward Jon Shell’s vision to develop a park on an unused city-owned block underneath the interstate.
Council members offered their approval for the project Oct. 13 after roundly praising the concept, which involves privately raising the $1.5 million needed for construction and then handing the facility over to the city to maintain.
“This is one of the easiest asks that I’ve ever entertained,” Councilman Brian Spencer said of the request to use the land located under Interstate 110.
Shell’s plan involves constructing a skatepark across the street from the Pensacola Police station, where an expansive lot of property currently sits vacant, save for a small community garden. The park will also feature other amenities, such as a cafe, an amphitheater and a walking track with exercise stations.
The city council appeared enthusiastic about the possibility of a skatepark. They described the concept as “a great idea,” “a fulfillment of an amazing need,” “a manifestation of a futuristic vision” and “10 or 20 years past due.”
“I think I was 7 or 8-years-old when I got my first skateboard,” Council President Charles Bare reflected fondly on his years skating. “It was metal-wheeled and had a picture of a shark on it.”
It was obvious early on in the council meeting that Shell’s project had the necessary support from city officials. But for good measure, the gallery was packed with skateboarders in an effort to show public support. They were there to deliver three-minute pleas for council’s approval, but barely needed to do so.
“This plan has a lot of something for everybody,” 10-year-old skater Cohen Thornburg told council. “Think of a community skatepark as a bridge that can bring us all closer together.”
Really the only council member that needed even the slightest nudge to approve the project was Councilwoman Sherri Myers. She’d expressed concerns earlier in the week about focusing too much on the city’s youth at the expense of its older citizens, as well as her district having a lack of recreational facilities.
But even Myers was saying she loved and supported the idea. Wished she could skateboard herself. And musing about “a little scooter park for ladies my age.”
But she still had concerns about the lack of parks in her district. And she didn’t like the distance her constituents would need to travel to get to the skatepark. And she wondered how involved the city would be in development phase.
“Will the city have any oversight with the design of the skatepark?” Myers asked.
Shell explained that skateparks were better designed by professionals who better understand the sport. He told her that Spohn Ranch, a California design company that has worked with the X-Games, would be involved in the project.
“Are you familiar with the X-Games?” Shell asked the councilwoman.
“No, should I be?” Myers said.
Amidst laughs from the gallery and other council members, Shell explained that the X-Games were akin to the World Series or Super Bowl for sports like skateboarding.
“Are you familiar with Tony Hawk?” Shell asked.
“Do I have to tell the truth?” Myers laughed. “Are these things you see on TV? I don’t have a TV.”
“It’s silly to have people design skateparks who don’t skateboard, rollerblade or ride bikes,” Shell summarized.
But Myers didn’t really need convincing. She seemed to be simply running through an exercise in formality to flex some principles and air some grievances. She was on board.
Her fellow council member P.C. Wu said he understood the concerns about older citizens and her district’s lack of recreational facilities, but he’d also heard of the X-Games. The councilman knew the attention and tourists a top-notch skatepark could potentially draw to the city.
“My son-in-law is a surfboarder, a surfer,” Wu said, explaining that he’d attended an X-Games event in California.
Wu also said he knew Blake Doyle’s mother. In Shell’s vision the skatepark is dedicated to Doyle, his friend and fellow skateboarder who was killed when struck by a train in 2015. The councilman referred to the park’s honoring of Doyle as an emotional layer and “icing on the cake” for the project.
Plus, he contended, a privately built skatepark on a parcel of land under the interstate that the city had no other use for should be an easy sell.
“I’m thinking, what’s the problem?” Wu told Shell. “We should be giving you roses.”
The city council eventually did give its unanimous support to the skatepark project with an 8-0 vote.
Now, Shell will proceed with fundraising efforts for the project. In total, it’s estimated to cost about $1.5 million to develop. After that, the park will be handed over to the city to maintain as it does other parks in Pensacola. Upkeep of the park — both the skatepark and other amenities associated with the park — is expected to run between $40,000 and $50,000 annually.
When finished, the free, municipally-run Blake Doyle Skatepark will play into the city’s Hollice T. Williams Greenway Framework plan. The plan involves making improvements along a 1.3-mile stretch underneath I-110, and is designed to revitalize a city “gateway” and to create “a destination for those who seek a unique and culturally diverse venue for recreation or relaxation.”
For more information on the planned skatepark, read “(Half)pipe Dreams, How a Skatepark Could Play in Pensacola.”
In 2015, Shell helped film a short documentary called “Forgotten Youth,” which laid out his vision for bringing a public skatepark to Pensacola.