Feature Article - January/February 2003
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Wheels of Fortune

Funding ideas for skate parks and inline hockey facilities

By Stacy St. Clair

More than 3,000 people turned out for the grand opening of the new skatepark in Rio Rancho, N.M.

Like many North American communities, Corpus Christi grappled with a recreation crisis a few years ago.

Merchants had declared a war on the local skaters, who were hanging out in the business district bothering shoppers and scuffing private marble sidewalks with their wheels. The business owners had enough clout to get the skaters banned from the area, and the teens began to feel disenfranchised in their coastal community.

First Baptist Church, one of the city's largest houses of worship, chose to intervene. The ministry agreed to build a skate park on church property as a means of not only helping the skaters in their congregation but also attracting other teens to their flock.

"We decided it was a good way to tell the kids that there is a place where they are wanted and accepted," says Mark Nichols, First Baptist's minister of recreation. "We knew it was going to be expensive."


The ambitious project would cost $90,000, a staggering amount for a congregation of roughly 1,200 members. Yet the church—with help from the local skaters—found a way to raise the money in a year's time.

The facility was a success before the first wheel hit the ground. When the park was dedicated in early November, 130 skaters had already joined and paid the $30 registration fee.

"I didn't think we would ever get there," Nichols says. "But we did, and everyone is very excited about it."

The moral of this story? It's simple. If a church in Corpus Christi, Texas, can find the money for a facility, so can you.

Facilities across the country are finding ways to fund skate parks despite the anemic economy. The process, at best, is a daunting one. It requires immeasurable amounts of patience, determination and creativity.

While we can't teach the first two characteristics, there are several innovative ways to find money for skate parks. From garage sales to grant proposals, the possibilities are endless.

Pay to Play

While you're scrimping and saving to open your facility, the thought inevitably will run through your mind:

Who says these skaters deserve a free ride, anyway?

The answer is, quite simply, nobody.

More and more, public skate parks are taking a page from private facilities and charging kids to use their equipment. While the practice, known as pay-to-play, has its obvious positive points, it occasionally can backfire and sometimes musters only a lukewarm response from skating advocates.

"The more money you charge, the more you limit the number of kids who can use it," says Heidi Lemmon, founder of Skatepark Association of the United States of America, a California-based organization aimed at helping communities design, build and operate skating facilities.

Lemmon points to an impoverished Southern California community that decided to charge skaters $1 per day to use the facility. The money was needed to help staff the facility, which until that time had allowed kids to skate for free.

The once-packed facility now looks like a ghost town. Lemmon went to the park recently and saw only three skaters there.

She realizes the $1 entrance fee doesn't seem outrageous, but the financially disadvantaged families in the community couldn't afford the cost of daily admission. The kids were forced to find somewhere else to skate in order to save their families $30 a month.

"Some kids can't afford it," she says. "You have to remember that."

Such concerns, however, don't mean you shouldn't consider a pay-to-play facility. Lemmon recommends skate parks that charge admission offer scholarships or reduced pricing to its poorer patrons.

"As long as they're taking care of the kids that can't afford it, that's OK," she says.

Lemmon also asks public facilities mulling a pay-to-play park to consider the possible theoretical costs. Specifically, isn't the price of keeping a child happy and occupied cheaper than some of the alternatives?

"They need to ask how much does it cost to put a kid through juvenile probation?" she says of one of the more extreme possibilities.

Lemmon's organization has no qualms with private facilities that are obliged to charge patrons. However, she encourages such entrepreneurs to investigate running the facility as a non-for-profit organization aimed at helping children.

While it may prevent the owners from earmarking all the profits for themselves, it does offer some tax relief and an opportunity to seek grant money. Besides, Lemmon says, few park owners make big bucks of their facilities.

"I don't know anyone who has become rich," she says. "I know people who went into it thinking they were going to make a lot of money and they didn't. But they're still there. They must have something else to love about it."