Getting a Skatepark in Your Town

Get Organized

Building a skatepark will take all the help you can get. A solid grassroots organization of skateboarders and their friends is one of the first things you will need in order to gain the support necessary to build your skatepark. This organization will be the key to planning, promotion, design and construction of the park.

We have found that few city council members want to listen to adults (who did not skate) lobby for the construction of a skatepark that they will not use. In order to be successful the city government needs assurance that those who are slowly losing their places to skate due to legislation and tenant complaints will be involved throughout the process.

Form an Organization

The first step in forming an organization is to get in touch with every skateboarder you know or see. Often skatepark committees are formed after the publication of an advertisement in the local paper. This advertisement should ask all concerned parties to attend a meeting to discuss the building of a skatepark. During this initial meeting, plan how to reach other members of the community. Maybe putting up posters designed to increase public interest and ask for broader community involvement.

As members of the skatepark committee are recruited ask them to make a strong commitment to the organization. Each member needs to be made aware that it was going to take a lot of work to build a park and that there was strength in numbers. All members should be asked to put aside any hang-ups regarding the involvement of a mix of skateboarders, in-line skaters and BMX freestyle bikers. First, all of these interested parties need to be represented by the organization as a whole, as all are going to share in the use of the park in the future. Second, it can be assumed that when working with the city, any hint of disagreement among group members or potential users of the park is going to be the surest way to get the project placed on the back burner.

The organization also needs youth spokespeople who are willing and comfortable talking to the public. It is helpful to choose a few articulate (outspoken) individuals that will consistently act as public spokespersons for the skatepark organization during speaking engagements while other members may come and go. It is also helpful to choose members to help coordinate, organize and record the events of each meeting.

Have Regular Meetings

A newly formed skatepark committee should plan regularly scheduled meetings. Places for meetings will depend on the size of your community, but usually public locations like the city library or recreation center are among the best possible choices. By using a community facility you might get access to computers, fax machines, telephones or a copy machine.

As an alternative, a local skateboard shop or a residence might serve as a meeting place. Find a safe and comfortable place to hold meetings where parents and other interested adults (including the press) feel welcome. Parents of skateboarders are excellent resources for establishing contacts for meeting locations and access to needed resources. Just ask, you might be surprised by what you get.

Meeting Agenda

After you have an organized a skatepark committee and have set a specific date and time to discuss issues, begin to plan a campaign strategy to increase the commitment of the members. Ideally there should be no change in meeting day and time throughout the entire project. Maintaining a consistent meeting day and time allows members to disappear for a bit and then drop back in.

Changing meeting times increases the likelihood that only the core group continues to participate throughout the project. This directly limits the number of individuals who participate, feel committed to, and ultimately go away with a sense of ownership in the project.

Who Should Come to Meetings?

Members representing interests in various sports including skateboarding, in-line skating and BMX freestyle biking. The assistance from a dedicated group of skaters will not only help to reduce the overall cost of the park, but will also increase the skaters' feelings of ownership of the park after it opens.

In addition, the newspaper, radio and television media enjoy the various opportunities to capture the youth in action, either fundraising or working on construction of the park.

It is necessary to have at least two adults present at all meetings. Preferably, one adult should consistently attend and facilitate all meetings for safety and meeting management. It is very helpful to involve as many parents and other interested adults as early in the skatepark campaign as possible.

Adults are essential connections to city government and business. At first, the city council as well as other groups and businesses might not pay much attention to a group of local youth, but recognition improves when youth are backed-up by a group of adults who are taxpayers and voters. Adults simply have much more experience accessing and working within the "system" in ways that younger members do not.

Who Else Can Help?

Religious Officials:

No matter what a person's personal religious practice or belief, these individuals are powerful members of almost any community or government. When you approach the religious community, it helps to stress the community-based need for the skatepark. Take time to emphasize the positive aspects of skateboarding and the skateboard community. For example, emphasize how the park can help kids promote the sport in a positive manner by keeping skaters "off the streets" and out of trouble with the law. This is the kind of emphasis that will garner their support. Give examples like Skate-Church in Portland, Oregon that has ramps and obstacles for skaters to use in a safe and controlled atmosphere. Try to make contact with as many religious organizations as possible and when you find ones that support your cause ask them to write letters of support to the city council.

Non-profit Agencies:

A non-profit community service agency can help in many ways. In addition to grant writing, they may offer staff time to over-see the project, handle the disbursement of funds and work with the committee to contract for construction. This also enables the committee to operate under the umbrella of their non-profit status. In short, when you go asking for money or materials you are able to say those magic words - "it's tax deductible."

Most umbrella organizations will not take just any group under their wings. They will consider the nature of the project and the impact that it will have upon the community. Non-profit and umbrella organizations rely heavily upon grants to pay overhead and salaries. Their ability to receive grants depends largely upon the success of the projects that they sponsor. Do your research before approaching an organization. This will increase your likelihood of success. Your research should include learning about the long-term goals of the organization and past projects. Determine beforehand as accurately as possible what your needs are, and how much of the organizations time and resources will be required. Then, make an appointment and ask for what you need.

Local Business Community:

The local business community is generally tired of skateboarders bombing down sidewalks, frightening customers, and tearing up their benches, ledges, rails and other structures. Ironically, this means members of the business community can be powerful allies. Try to gain the public support of the business community as they typically have deep ties within the community and may come up with leads that would have otherwise been overlooked.

The approach that meets with the most success is to actively demonstrate that the problem is not skateboarding, but the lack of a suitable place to skate. Once the local business community is convinced of the seriousness of the skatepark committee they may consistently supply in-kind donations of construction materials and items for fundraisers, as well as monetary contributions. If you cannot get business owners to city council meetings to speak out in your favor, ask them to write letters of support. At the very least ask them to sign a petition reserved only for businesses and professionals.

Whenever your organization needs something, identify businesses that can best address that need. Then, just walk right in, explain why you are there, what you are out to accomplish and what you need from the business. This simple approach can get the skatepark committee free typesetting, printing, tools, construction materials and all sorts of other goods and services.

Law Enforcement:

Most cities have ordinances against skateboarding in certain or all areas of the city. Of course, it is the duty of the police to enforce those ordinances. All jokes aside, the police really do have better things to do than write tickets and confiscate skateboards because of a city code. However, until laws change or more skateparks are built, it will remain the job of law enforcement to stop individuals from skateboarding wherever it is prohibited. If you can get a few law enforcement officials on the side of the skatepark committee your efforts to build a skatepark will go much easier.

In many instances the chief of police, or another representative from law enforcement regularly reports to the city council. So, go straight to the top. Contact the chief of police or head of emergency services and ask his or her opinions about building a public skatepark in the community. Most likely, the response will be positive. In our experience, the law enforcement and medical services communities were very accepting and supportive.

They supported the idea of a skatepark because they understood the dilemma that skaters were in and could see the skatepark as a solution to a problem. Basically, law enforcement did not enjoy stopping skateboarders on the street and confiscating skateboards, so they were interested in reasonable solutions.

 

Plan a Campaign

Once you have rallied the local skate community, recruited a few adults, maybe had a meeting or two, it is time to initiate a campaign to gain community support for a public skatepark. When trying to advance from planning to fundraising and then construction, it is seldom a good idea just to proceed without a clear strategy, especially when working with community members and city government.

In order for your campaign to build a skatepark to succeed in the shortest amount of time you will need to make all non-skaters aware that you are the local experts. Not only on the sport of skateboarding, but skatepark design and construction as well. Your group will have to demonstrate to others the need for a skatepark and convince them that they should support the park financially. Remember, most supporters will eventually have to part with some of their own hard-earned money to make things happen, so you want to be convincing.

The more knowledgeable that your group is and the more you demonstrate this knowledge the more likely community members will be to ask for your opinion in the future. When it comes to making key decisions during the construction of the skatepark you will want them consulting you first. You want them to ask for and respect your knowledge and opinions.

At some point the availability of your input may be the difference between a flowing, smooth transition and some horribly kinked concrete nightmare. For them to even consider including you, all individuals interested in and associated with the project must have faith in your knowledge, ability and willingness to work as part of a team. They must also find that you are accessible, reliable and dependable.

Not only will you have to convince all sorts of people that a skatepark is needed and that they should support it emotionally and financially, but that an unconventional construction method is best. The methodology used for modern skatepark construction is unusual. Most contractors do not know this method. However, it is a method that can result in the highest quality skatepark and, if done correctly, will provide the flawless results required.

Most people, local concrete contractors included, will not be easily convinced that such a method is necessary, particularly if they feel that their reputation may be at stake. Offer information regarding design, construction and the availability of skatepark professionals as soon as possible. Be patient and deliver your message consistently.

Develop an Information Sheet and Fact Sheet

The campaign should begin with the compilation of a body of information on skating and skateparks that you can provide to people. This information will 1) give them an overview of the sport and the growing popularity of skateparks and 2) answer their questions and concerns about a skatepark. This information sheet should be one-page in length, providing a concise summary of the plan to build a skatepark in your town and information on skateparks. This page should also provide information on the need and support for a skatepark in your town.

Remember, the majority of community members are not skaters. So, concentrate on providing information on the benefits to the community. Explain the economic and social benefits of a skatepark. Compare skating to other sports that require a specialized facility, such as tennis or basketball. List the number of individuals that would use and could benefit from a skatepark. Make people aware that parks are being built all over the world at an astonishing rate, some in towns smaller than yours. Describe how popular these skateparks have become.

However, remember that the majority of the community have never been skaters and will not appreciate stories of police harassment or how the best spots have been shut down. Accentuate the positive. This information sheet should be available when youth skatepark committee members and other involved parties make their first contacts with community members.

Second, develop a fact sheet. The fact sheet is an extension of the information sheet but provides more detailed information. The fact sheet answers the nitty-gritty questions concerning the skatepark. For example, who is going to pay for it? How will it be monitored? What about liability, vandalism and drugs? Address these issues intelligently from the start and they will become non-issues.

Be sure to make the information sheet your own so that it speaks to members of your own community. Laws associated with skateboarding differ from state to state, so do your own research and make the information packet applicable to your own community. Remember to pass these information and fact sheets out everywhere! Never miss an opportunity to increase support for your skatepark.

Develop a Flyer

Also develop a flyer that is a synthesis of the information and fact sheets. The flyer can be designed to allow it to meet United States Postal Service requirements when printed on 2 sides, folded into thirds, and taped at the top. Therefore, the flyer can be easily mailed without an envelope. Distribute the flyer, information sheet and fact sheet around the community. Always leave a few extras. Divide these items up between youth committee members and make them available during speaking engagements. Make sure the flyer lists the committee members to contact when people want to inquire about volunteering and/or want to make monetary or in-kind contributions.

Develop a Petition

Developing a petition is essential to your cause. It provides detailed information to city government and others about how many individuals are in support of your skatepark project. Make copies of the petition and give them to friends. Leave them at local skate shops, bike shops and sporting goods stores. Use your imagination to gather as many signatures as possible. Ask permission to stand outside grocery stores, the mall, library or sporting events to solicit signatures.

Don't be shy, simply state your case, ask for support and give everyone an information sheet, fact sheet or flyer to pass along. Then ask them to sign the petition. The more people you involve the better your chances are. Try to get a local newspaper to follow your progress. Ask schoolteachers for help. Ask parents to take petitions to work. Think about groups at a college or university in your area. There are literally hundreds of groups that could be approached for support. Save a few petition pages for business owners and other prominent members of the community. Put those pages right on top.

When you feel that you have enough signatures to demonstrate solid grass-roots support, get ready to take your case to the city council. At a city council meeting you can present the need and support for a skatepark, and ask to have all signed petitions entered into the meeting record. A standard petition heading is as follows:

Petition in Support of a Free Community Skatepark: We the undersigned, as citizens of ___________, support the development of a free public skatepark within our city. We recognize the need for and the benefits of a free public skatepark and believe the city should at the very least provide suitable land and agree to maintain the skatepark after construction, and at the most, fund, build and maintain the skatepark just as it would a basketball court, tennis court, or other public general use area.

Develop a Mailing List

Starting and maintaining a good mailing list requires a lot of time and effort, but it needs to be done. All of the work will be well worth it. It is best to start from scratch, as you will have complete control of the content of the list. The petition pages are a good place to start. The mailing list should be updated often so that the information is current.

Avoid the tendency to go for the big list, always opt for quality over quantity. Include only those groups or individuals that have expressed support and can help to further the cause now or in the future. Don't use other organizations lists, as they are unlikely to be of much good. The only exception might be to use the mailing list of a non-profit agency in the event that you are operating under the umbrella of their non-profit status. Never pay for a list and never wait until you need the mailing list to put it together.

Complete a User Survey

A User Survey can be developed to gather information from individuals within the community with regard to their interest in sports that could benefit from a skatepark. This information is important because it allows you to accurately address issues such as potential use patterns. It shows community members and city government that you are prepared and have done your research. It also provides a resource of potential volunteers when it comes time for skatepark design, fundraising and construction.

In addition, the combined information can be invaluable during the design phase as it provides the design group with information on potential use patterns, age groups and skill levels. Basic things to learn are how many potential park users are there, how often would they use a park, and how much they spent on skateboarding per year.

Complete a Survey of Communities with Existing Skateparks

A survey should be sent or given to persons involved with the building of skateparks in other communities. The results of this survey can provide powerful information.

Persons responding to the survey are likely to be similar to the individuals who will be deciding the fate of your campaign for a skatepark. So the opinions of these individuals will be respected and valued by those individuals (e.g., members of city government).

By developing a survey of communities with completed skateparks you can identify potentially troubling issues and take steps to avoid them before you ever speak to the city council. The gathering of this information will demonstrate that you are prepared, have done your research and are not asking for allocation of a large amount of funds without forethought and planning.

 

Working with the Media

The Print and Electronic Media

Develop and maintain a list of all media contacts, so you know immediately who to call when needed. Include all of the newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations in your area on the list. Consider regional and national sources only if you have a reason to believe they will take an interest. Newspapers and television editors send out reporters based upon the news of the day. Magazines, on the other hand, prepare for press months in advance. Call each contact and ask for their deadlines and submission criteria. Include this information on your list.

The Press Release

Press releases should be written and used to announce and describe anything newsworthy. Do not send press releases out too far before the deadline. If the release arrives too early for publication, it is likely to be misplaced or discarded. Some publications are interested only in information in advance of some major event. Others are interested in reporting the fact that something interesting has taken place. If writing a press release to announce an event that has all ready occurred, let them know what happened; and what was seen, said, heard, and who reacted. Remember, what seems ordinary to you could be fascinating to an editor, journalist, or host of a radio or television interview program.

A press release should tell the facts, but not sound like a weekly report at school or boot camp. It should interest the reader, inspire an editor to assign a writer to a story, or inspire a television reporter to provide coverage. Usually it has to be something that will get the general public interested and involved.

If writing is not your expertise, do not write a press release. Find someone that is good with words and who finds the task of writing on behalf of your organization enjoyable. Keep the press release simple so that it will be accessible to a large audience.

The following items should be included in the press release:

  • The headline should set the hook and announce the event.
  • The first paragraph should state the purpose of your project and capture the readers' interests.
  • The second and third paragraph should contain what is known as the five W's: who, what, when, where, why. Any additional paragraphs should back up the first 2 or 3 with quotes or other interesting details.

Whenever possible, issue the press release under the auspices of the city or your non-profit umbrella organization. Ask for permission to use their letterhead with the understanding that they can approve the final copy. In some instances they may have a public-relations representative. If this person offers to help or you wish to seek their help, make sure that this person is qualified to help you by using the following criteria:

  • The person is not threatened by your aggressive pursuit of good press coverage.
  • The person is willing to cooperate.
  • You can communicate freely with this person.
  • She or he really understands and is committed to seeing a skatepark built in your community.

The Media Kit

Any time that you have an event, you will want to invite the media. They have the greatest capability to bring your project to a large audience. Every time that the newspaper, radio or television media shows up, provide them with a media kit. This is a current packet of information regarding the project and the progress currently being made. The reporter can keep this media kit to assist in the preparation of news stories. The media kit makes the reporter's job a great deal easier and increases the likelihood for positive, accurate coverage. The media kit should contain the information sheet, wish list (a list of donations needed), fact sheet, flyer, press release, photos and any other pertinent information. Do not overwhelm members of the media with this kit. Keep it fairly short and concise.

The Internet/World Wide Web

The Internet is also a valuable tool to gain support and gather information. Develop a website and start by posting your information sheet. Add pages specifically addressing fundraising, current activities and progress. During the design phase, the design plan can be placed on the web with an area for viewer comments. Weekly comments posted to the web can be shared at regular meetings. As design plans change, the revised plans can be posted so that interested persons can follow the progress of the skatepark.

Don't forget to add links to other sites that may help further your cause. Many skateboard manufactures have sites with skatepark directories and other information that can prove useful. Always get permission before establishing a link. Once fundraising has started, use the Internet to let the public and volunteers know what is coming up.

After construction begins, take digital photos or scan in pictures to provide a weekly update. The establishment and upkeep of the website is best left to members of the youth committee. They have or can quickly gain the expertise needed to build a web site and the resulting site will reflect the interests of that age group.

Public Speaking

Many skatepark committees find that the best way to reach the largest number of citizens and to gain the greatest exposure for monetary and in-kind donations is to take the message to the streets. This requires the development of a speaking tour. First, select a few of the more dedicated and articulate members of the youth committee to act as public spokespersons. Then work together to write speeches and coach the youth on public speaking skills.

In most cases the youth will have to leave school to complete these speaking engagements, because many civic organizations meet early in the morning for breakfast or over lunch. Therefore, it is necessary for adult committee members to contact parents and the schools to arrange for these events.

Every speaking engagement is worth your time. Sometimes the organization as a whole will give you cash. Other times, individual members will just come up and hand one of the youth a check for $50 or $100. You will also be offered in-kind donations or leads on gravel or lumber as well as discounts on cement and professional services such as excavation and printing. People really get excited when they hear from youth within the community, particularly when it was a sector of youth that do not typically participate in group or adult activities.

A short list of the organizations that can be contacted consists of Rotary International, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Day-breakers, Masonic Temple, Elks Club and various churches. Look at your own community to see where your cause will be best served.

Demonstrations

In addition to the speaking tour for civic groups, you may want to try to get additional youth in the community excited by giving lectures and demonstrations to elementary, middle and high school age youth. This will spread the word and garner support. This will also generate cash and material indirectly by getting more and more parents involved through the involvement of their children.

Open Forums at Town Hall Meetings

A town hall meeting can be scheduled to open the idea of a skatepark up for public comment. The town hall meeting should be scheduled in an easily accessible public location and preferably take place at night when most people are not at work. Get the word out about the town hall meeting through the press, your web site and word-of-mouth.

Personally invite all interested parties that you have met through your networking campaign. Always invite members of the press to town hall meetings and provide each press member with a media kit. Along with supporters of the skatepark, it is likely that opponents of the skatepark and individuals who are undecided will also attend. Be prepared to talk with opponents and those who are undecided.

Prior to any town hall meeting you must prepare. Prepare so that you can provide information and answer questions about the sport, liability, injuries and damage to the area. You must be able to answer questions effectively in order to enlist as much support as possible for the campaign and to address the concerns that the meeting attendees have. By being prepared and answering questions fully, you may stop future vocal opposition of the skatepark. It is better to confront opposition and undecided community members at a scheduled town hall meeting than at a city council meeting. If you wait to address the concerns of community members at a city council meeting, it will more likely than not result in the instant death of your skatepark plans.

Stationary Kiosks

While campaigning and fundraising for the skatepark it is wise to have a stationary information kiosk that circulates around the community. This can consist of a three fold cardboard pasteboard made for this purpose. This can be purchased at office supply stores. This pasteboard should contain information about the project, the budget, your current needs, and contact information. A model of the facility and a secure donation box can accompany this display.

During the planning and fundraising campaign, the kiosk can make the rounds to churches, city hall and the public library. This display can also accompany speaking engagements. After speaking engagements, ask if the display can remain at that location for a week or so before being moved to another location. Depending on the size of your community, it may be helpful to have multiple stationary kiosks to place in various locations.

 

It All Comes Down to This

Approaching City Government

Now that you have the petitions, information gathered from user surveys, the existing skatepark surveys and community support, it is time for the skatepark committee members and skatepark supporters to approach the city. The key to being effective when approaching city government is to be humble, respectful and prepared.

A lot of people will tell you that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. It may be true that breaking down doors and demanding your rights as citizens may get you attention. However, this is not the approach I recommend and I have serious doubts that this would work when proposing a skatepark in your community.

What does work is preparation and documentation of support from within the community.

Bring the petition sheets and the information from your user survey, the results from the existing skatepark survey, a list of potential donors and site evaluations, and potential skatepark design plans (if possible). Make a list of all of the basketball, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, playgrounds and other recreation facilities that exist in your city. Record how many people actually use them and compare that to local skate spots. Get as many people as you can to attend the first meeting to show their support for both the skatepark and the skating community.

Toward the end of most city council meetings, there is a period of time set aside for public comments. When you go up to the podium, you will have to state your name and address for the record. Then, speak your piece. Keep in mind that most city council members are business professionals that have already put in a full days work before the council meeting. Make your points, but don't be redundant. If there is a huge turnout of supporters, you may want to recognize the group as a whole, but only let half a dozen or so supporters speak.

Begin your presentation to the city by explaining that a skatepark is just like any other sport or recreation area and should be evaluated from that position. Describe your comparisons of use from other recreation spots to your information on the potential use of a skatepark. Describe the problems with legislation against skating in public places, and point out that baseball diamonds were created so that kids would not play in the streets. This is comparable to what needs to happen with skateboarding. Tell them that the goal is to have a safe place to participate in your sport. However, don't expect a big handout. Let the city know that the skatepark committee members are committed, willing and able to help in anyway that the city needs and allows. Simply state your case for a public skatepark and submit the petition and other items for the record.

Don't be surprised if the city council does not express an opinion that night. City council meetings are open to the public and often reported on by the local media. There are other meetings, closed to the public where the city council is free to discuss issues with candor. Keep in mind that a group of non-skaters will likely decide the fate of your skatepark project during a meeting that you will not be invited to. Your only representation may be the information and personal impressions offered by your group up to that point.

Written by Anthony Gembeck

Reproduced by permission of TransWorld Skateboarding Business Magazine
www.skatebiz.com