The LOVE Park keepsake sale has been put on hold until further notice, but much of the granite salvaged from the plaza’s original layout is still on track for its potential future home: a new skatepark on the Delaware River.
While Philly social media filled up with disappointments after the souvenir sale was called off at the last minute on Black Friday, and as the Department of Parks & Recreation scrambled for an explanation, at least one person was secretly thrilled.
“The fact that this keepsake thing is an issue right now — ack, it’s beautiful,” said Josh Nims, cofounder of skateboarding advocacy org SkatePhilly.
Nims’ reaction, relayed to Billy Penn while he was spending Thanksgiving weekend with family in South Carolina, had nothing to do with schadenfreude.
He did feel bad for people who’d queued up to buy the mementos and were forced to leave empty-handed after an hours-long wait. (Parks & Rec reps have said the city didn’t realize it needed advance permission to use the LOVE sculpture likeness on the trinkets; an application has since been filed and the city will contact the people who left their emails when approval comes through.)
But to Nims, the fact that so many people were interested in getting hold of granite that used to be a skater basin — there were reportedly more than 300 in line — was confirmation of his longtime passion going mainstream.
“It makes the hair stand up on the back on my neck to think about how far we’ve come on this issue in 15 years,” he said. “That we’ve reached a point where this [granite] is sacred.”
It was back in 2000 that Nims and a group of fellow shredders formed the Skater’s Defense Lobby, a response to new Philadelphia legislation cracking down on skateboarding in LOVE Park, which had become an internationally known skater destination. In 2001, the lobbying group morphed into the nonprofit Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund, which was successful in convincing the city to help fund the creation of Paine’s Park along Schuylkill Banks.
The nonprofit, which was recently renamed SkatePhilly to reflect its broader goals, also convinced Parks & Rec to develop a skateboarding master plan. The plan called for developing as many as 15 additional skateparks around the city via a public-private partnership. Several of those have since been built.
So when LOVE Park was being demolished to make way for the new design, Nims ended up the unofficial caretaker of the stone from its center.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, over the years I’ve become the caretaker of leftover granite,” Nims said. “Both from Dilworth Plaza and LOVE Park.”
To create the sought-after keepsakes emblazoned with the LOVE logo, Nims explained, only broken pieces were used. “We’ve got good projects planned for this material,” he said. “It’s all about supporting the skateboarding community.”
Indeed, the money raised from the eventual sale of the in-limbo 3″ x 3″ granite mementos (which are priced at $50 each) is slated to go toward the creation of future skateparks.
And for the next one, Nims has his sights set on the Delaware River waterfront.
“A Delaware River/LOVE Park granite reuse project is what I’m working on right now,” he said. No specific location has been selected, but he has one in mind: Pulaski Park. The enclave on the pier at the end of Allegheny Avenue in Port Richmond is mostly used for fishing. It does not currently have a lot of built infrastructure, but does have what Nims pointed out is a rarity: The 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of space a good skatepark needs.
Via email, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation confirmed the potential project. “The department is certainly supportive of plans to build a skatepark,” said Deputy Commissioner Aparna Palantio, “but at this time, we are simply speculating on sites.”
Pulaski is just past the northern boundary of the area overseen by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which is also open to the idea.
“DRWC has not been approached about this concept for Pulaski Park,” said DRWC planner Lizzie Woods, “but we would welcome the opportunity to be part of the conversation.”
While some of the projects SkatePhilly helped bring to fruition were relatively small — the skatepark at Granahan Playground in Haddington cost approximately $95,000 and the one at McCreesh Playground in Elmwood around $150,000 — the scale of the Delaware River undertaking would be more comparable to Paine’s Park, per Nims. Not quite as big (Paine’s had a total budget of around $4.5 million), but up there.
“Of course we’re going to do a big ask,” Nims said. “The Delaware River project will be a $2 million project. No way around it.”
Securing the funding won’t be an easy task, he admitted, but he’s already started the conversation with some skateboard companies, as well as leaders in the local foundation scene. “We’re talking about activating young people in our urban public spaces!”
And he found the recent show of enthusiasm for the LOVE Park granite keepsakes extremely encouraging.
“I’m like [Frank Lloyd] Wright building Fallingwater,” Nims said. “I’m going to make it happen.”