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Skateboarders Losing Legendary Park

April 3, 2002

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Skateboarders are heartbroken about the prospect of losing Love Park, a legendary expanse of granite featured in a best-selling video game and visited by skaters from across the country.

JFK Plaza _ known to locals as Love Park because it is home to the familiar Robert Indiana sculpture of the word LOVE _ is set to undergo more than $1 million in renovations that will make it harder for skateboarders to jump, grind and kick-flip there.

Sixty benches, 30 lights and more grass and plants will be added to the wide-open spaces near City Hall under a project that should be under way by summer.

``This is just like home,″ lamented 18-year-old Josh Kalis of Philadelphia, who has skated there for eight years. ``This is one of the best and most common places to come to.″

City officials say skateboarders have caused serious cracking and chipping of the granite. The city also wants to make the park greener and more inviting to the office workers who sit on the edge of the park’s fountain, eat their lunches and stretch out with books on the grass.

``It really is about giving the plaza back to Philadelphians,″ said Terrie Rouse, a consultant on the project.

Love Park has become a mecca to skateboarders.

San Diego native Tony Hawk, a 33-year-old champion skateboarder whose popular video game features the park, said he has seen few places like it. There are many well-known skating areas, such as Marseilles Skatepark in New York City, Burnside Skatepark in Portland, Ore., and the Skatepark in Tampa, Fla. But Love Park was one of the few born by accident, Hawk said.

Skating at the park actually has been illegal since 1995. Police sporadically enforce the ban and skateboarders frequently scatter when officers arrive, only to return when the coast is clear.

Doug Berk, 14, of Newtown, said the combination of open spaces, curbs, rails and ledges is worth risking the $300 fine. ``It’s a place where you don’t have to pay, but you get hassled by cops,″ he said.

During the X Games in Philadelphia during the summer of 2000, professional skateboarder Kerry Getz painted ``Free Love Park″ on his helmet. Professionals such as Getz have even offered to help pay for the skateboard damage at the park, estimated at $1 million.

Rouse said the city has discussed donating the park’s old concrete slabs to skateboarders and is looking for a new skateboarding site.

Philadelphia resident Alex Ward said he doesn’t mind the skateboarders, but he has seen some close calls between them and office workers having their lunch. ``It’s kind of an uneasy existence,″ he said.

Matty Rodgers, 54, who works for the city Law Department, recalled a recent near-accident, and said: ``They’re nothing but a hazard.″


On the Net:

Fairmount Park Commission: http://www.phila.gov/summary/fairmount/

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