Paine's Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
By Joe Bush
Anthony Bracali wanted to build a skatepark that was different, and not just to be unique.
Bracali, the lead architect for the recently opened Paine's Park in Philadelphia, needed to win public perception as well as funding for the space that was to compensate for the banning of skateboarders from LOVE Park, a site that had figured prominently in Philadelphia being recognized as a mecca for skateboarders.
Bracali needed the new place to be different from other skateparks, different from other urban recreation areas—different because the plans called for expensive materials that made public funding crucial.
On May 23, 2013, Paine's Park opened after more than 10 years of advocacy, fundraising, design and construction. The site, along the famed Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is the most prominent ever selected for a project involving skateboarding.
Paine's Park is conceived as a "public space for skateboarding" and not a skatepark. The design was developed to serve many needs and many users, including skateboarders. Amid the concrete ledges and curving banks are cool niches for onlookers, a concert stage and a scenic overlook space for gazing at the Schuylkill River. The park is only 200 feet south of the Art Museum.
"The primary distinction is the design of the space itself is driven by something other than skating," said Bracali, president of Friday Architects/Planners Inc. "A typical skatepark, if you think about it as a piece of architecture or landscape architecture, it's not based on the way you would shape an urban space, it's all based on what's good to skate. That's the difference with what we've done here. It's a factor and we've thought about it and we've tweaked things to make them skateable, but that's not driving the decision-making about the design."
Almost immediately after the skater ban at LOVE Park, leaders in government and the community realized the deep roots that skateboarding had in Philadelphia and that more importantly the city was identified on an international level with skateboarding. Under the leadership of then Mayor John Street and then Director of the City Planning Commission Maxine Griffith, the City Planning Commission identified a 2.5-acre parcel of overgrown land adjacent to Eakins oval, set below the elevation of the Ben Franklin Parkway.
An RFP was issued in 2004 for a design team, and once Bracali won the project, he and his team set out to change the model of a typical skatepark design process by approaching the project as a more cohesive, integrated design process. Bracali also had in mind that when and if the popularity of skateboarding waned, the park would be just as attractive.
"We call it a public space for skateboarding because it's not a street-style skate park; it's not an urban plaza skate park; it is primarily a public and recreational space where skateboarding is allowed to happen," Bracali said. "An issue was public perception about what it would be, so not having skating as the lead word was a choice we made. It's a cyclical sport. My point was if you design a place that serves all these other people, part outdoor park, part amphitheater, and skateboarding as an added function, you can better manage those troughs in participation."
The design team hosted 13 public meetings attended by more than 300 people to gain input. In 2006, the final design was completed and unveiled to the public. The project's construction documents were finalized, but the mechanism to raise the construction dollars was not established.
Between 2006 and 2010, the nonprofit client, Franklin's Paine, worked to advance its mission of creating public skateparks in Philadelphia and to advance fundraising work to assemble construction dollars. Meanwhile, the project design was receiving accolades for its different approach and its open public process. Both American Institute for Architects (AIA) Philadelphia and AIA Pennsylvania recognized the project with design awards, and the project was also published in national media outlets.
The City of Philadelphia and State of Pennsylvania stepped up with large funding commitments that by 2011 had the project poised to enter the construction phase. Mayor Michael Nutter and former Governor Ed Rendell were instrumental supporters; the nearly $4.25 million committed between the city and state is the largest amount ever invested by government to a project for skateboarding.
The project encompasses a triangular 2.5 acres of land between Eakins Oval and the Schuylkill River Trail. Only about 50 percent of the site is developed, with the upper plateau preserved as green space. The project includes two major public walkways to better connect people from the Parkway to River Trail.
It also includes a public overlook that, as an urban gesture, is aligned with fountains in front of the Art Museum. At the center of the project is an outdoor stage and seating amphitheatre that allows for public gatherings and serves as a skate-able feature. In fact, the dimension of the amphitheatre seating terraces matches those of the famed LOVE Park fountain terraces. The design mixes granite, brick, cobblestones, concrete and steel with the most landscaping ever planned into a project of this kind.
Bracali said expense was driven by materials, the extra landscaping, rain gardens for stormwater management, lighting systems and challenging conditions due to past site usage. He said the quality of soil and sub-base was poor due to past demolition and burial, which made conditions difficult for drainage and foundations.
Park highlights include a walking path that doubles as a skating course; a 360-degree view of skyscrapers, the Art Museum and the river; and four giant white oaks that Bracali preserved for shade. Features of the park double as useful to both skateboarders and non-skateboarders: the walking path, as well as ledges and benches.
The project consultant team includes Synterra, Ltd., Grindline Skateparks, and Pennoni Associates Consulting Engineers. The original team members included Purkiss Rose/RSI, Damiano & Long Consulting Engineers, SkateNerd, and Qualified Women in Construction. The construction was completed by Bittenbender Construction with Northstar Advisors serving as the owner's representative for Franklin's Paine.
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