A proposed skate park near downtown Pensacola is one step closer to becoming a reality after city officials voted Thursday evening to approve the concept.
Once built, the skate park would occupy a full city block — bounded by Jackson, Hayne, La Rua, and Tarragona streets – within Hollice T. Williams Park, a largely undeveloped greenway that stretches 18 blocks underneath the elevated Interstate 110. In addition to the skate park, the project would incorporate the community garden that’s already onsite and add walking paths, benches, exercises stations, and other amenities.
The project is the brainchild of Pensacola real estate agent Jon Shell and his Upward Intuition group. Shell says he started skateboarding when he was 10, but when a local skatepark closed a few years later, there weren’t many places left to skate in Pensacola. Like skateboarders in many communities, Shell and his friends tried to use the stairs, handrails and ledges of downtown Pensacola, but after being chased off by police and business owners, he hung up his skateboard.
“I know if we’d had a positive, safe place to practice what we loved, that I would have stuck with it,” Shell said. “And it really would have kept me out of a lot of trouble.”
In 2009, Shell moved to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida, where he discovered that city’s numerous public skateparks and picked up skateboarding again. As he watched downtown Pensacola’s growth from afar, Shell wondered why a similar public park couldn’t be created in Pensacola. The idea stuck with him, and in 2015, by then back in Pensacola, Shell wrote a blog post outlining his big idea.
When that idea began to pick up some steam, Shell formed Upward Intuition, a non-profit whose mission is to inspire the next generation to effect positive change in Pensacola. Under the Upward Intuition banner, Shell put together a skate team of area kids and began rallying support around his skate park vision.
Around the same time, Shell’s friend Blake Doyle, with whom Shell had skateboarded when he was younger, was struck and killed by a train. Doyle had been wearing headphones while walking alongside railroad tracks and didn’t hear the train coming.
“It was just so devastating, because so many people around our community loved this guy,” Shell said. “He had lost his leg in high school, and continued to roll around on a skateboard on a prosthetic leg. Never let him get it down. So we decided we wanted to do this project in memory of Blake and what he stood for.”
Before long, Shell’s skate park concept got the attention of Spohn Ranch, a veteran California-based design and construction firm that’s built skate parks across the country. The company reached out to Shell and offered to help with conceptual designs, which they provided pro bono.
All together, the project will cost about $1.5 million, Shell says, a figure which includes the skate park itself along with landscaping, walking paths, and other amenities. Rather than ask taxpayers to foot the bill, Shell plans to raise the money for the park both from private backers as well as public sources such as grants.
Before he starts raising money, though, Shell wanted city officials to endorse the plan and commit to taking over maintenance of the park once it’s built, which officials say could cost around $40,000 a year. Supporters of the park feel that’s a small price to pay for Pensacola to have what they feel will be a first-class amenity not just for the skateboarding community, but for all residents.
“We really want this park to be not just for skaters, BMXers, rollerbladers, but we want to have activities and programming options for people of all ages,” Shell said.
Shell hopes that development of the skate park could jumpstart progress on the Hollice T. Williams Park Urban Linear Greenway Framework Plan, a master plan for developing the 1.3 mile park with landscaping, walking paths, sports fields, and — you guessed it — a skate park.
Its recommendations unfunded, the plan has sat on a shelf since it was completed in 2010.
“Years ago, when they came in and put Interstate 110 through the center of our city, it really became the dividing line between our east and west side,” Shell said.”And the area around it has really experienced a lot of blight as a result. Our thought is that if we can successfully develop this city block right here, that may be the catalyst for the redevelopment and regeneration of the rest of this park.”
“I think this project could ultimately have a much bigger impact on our community,” Shell added.
Council members unanimously approved the measure Thursday night as nearly 100 enthusiastic supporters of the plan filled the council chambers.
“In my estimation this is 10 to 20 years overdue,” said Councilman P.C. Wu. “This is a fulfillment of an amazing need.”
“I think it’s a great day for Pensacola when we are given something like this,” said council president Charles Bare.
After the vote, Shell — who’s now secured the support of Pensacola’s mayor and city council, as well as the Florida Department of Transportation — said he would begin putting together a fundraising plan immediately. “I’d like to begin construction by 2018,” he said.