By Ben Maher:
Well, it started way back in October/November 2004. A 24-year-old “Me” went to a public workshop on Tybee Island, GA about fixing the dilapidated skatepark in Memorial Park. That’s where I met Jason Beulterman (then mayor pro-tem). Jason was heading up the meeting, and he wanted a new skatepark built to replace the existing one. Being that I had traveled the country visiting various skateparks, I decided to offer my advice.
This is how my 10-year journey began.
Things began to fall in place over the course of the next couple of months. I was able to convince Jason and the other participants that a concrete park was the way to go. I contacted several concrete skatepark companies (one being Team Pain Skateparks) and began to gather information. Along the way, I was put in contact with a friend of a friend that built parks for a living. I gave him a call, and by mid-January, the skatepark builders were staying at my house. Chris Berry and Melissa Berry (now Ballantyne) were a husband-wife traveling skatepark building duo. In warmer months, they worked with a company called Airspeed that built parks in the Pacific Northwest. In winter months, they joined forces with a company called Velocity Skateparks out of Ohio. A couple of weeks later, their buddy/co-worker Burke Morris came down too. So in the next couple of months and several city council meetings later, a whole lot of things happened. There were city council meetings, individual meetings with former and current council members (for that time period), and even some work at the site for the skatepark. Then all of a sudden it fell apart. Chris, Melissa, and Burke all had to leave because they were not getting paid from the company they were working for at the time. Velocity Skateparks was going through some inner turmoil and the city of Tybee had some discrepancies about continuing the project with them.
So the skatepark went on hold.
A couple of years later, the skatepark was back on the agenda. There were some city council members that were pushing hard for it. One of those council members was our current CFO Kathryn Williams. The city of Tybee was going to allot 250K out of the budget toward the skatepark. Well, a certain neighborhood association called TIRPOA (Tybee Island Residents and Property Owners Association) had an issue with that. That’s when things turned political. The city council called a public forum where both sides could address their concerns over the skatepark. I put together a PowerPoint presentation full of statistics, photos of families at skateparks, and other positive reinforcing material. The skateboarders were able to address all of the concerns from this opposing group. No decision was made that night of the forum, but the skatepark was the subject of many council meetings to follow. The Mayor (Jason Beulterman) formed a location committee for the skatepark. The park was either to be located in Jaycee Park or Memorial Park. This “process” went on for several months. We had some fundraisers in the meantime and raised about 18K in the process. Eventually the location committee finally decided on a location. In a 4-3 vote, Memorial Park was chosen as the location for the new skatepark with the Mayor breaking the tie in favor of the skatepark. Unfortunately, this park would never see the light of day. All of these events were taking place during an election year. After the election, the majority of the council was replaced. At one of the first meetings of the year (2008 I believe), a motion was made by Councilman Eddie Crone that “there be no skatepark on Tybee in any way, shape, or form”. That motion was seconded. In a 5-1 vote, the skatepark was off the table indefinitely. Paul Wolff voted for us but to no avail. It was a sad day for us. But we didn’t give up.
In early 2009, Kathryn Williams, her son Adam Williams and myself began meeting to discuss what we should do now. We still wanted a free public skatepark, but it looked like it would never happen on Tybee Island. The three of us formed a non-profit group called Chatham County Skate Park Supporters. So with the help of Mayor Jason Beulterman, we were able to secure a meeting with Chatham County Commissioner Pete Liakakis. We met with Mr. Liakakis and laid out our idea of a free public skatepark. In early 2010, the skatepark was on the county agenda for a vote. The Chatham County Commission voted unanimously to set aside land for a public skatepark at Lake Mayer Community Park in Savannah, GA. Wow! That seemed easy enough. There was one catch though. Chatham County Skate Park Supporters was tasked with the construction, maintenance, and management of the future skatepark.
Over the next couple of years, we met regularly with the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments of Chatham County. A lease securing the land was drafted between Chatham County and our organization and was finalized and signed in 2012. We were able to select Team Pain Skateparks to design and build the skatepark. Team Pain Skateparks is based out of Orlando, FL and build the best skateparks in the country. Tim Payne, the owner of Team Pain Skateparks, has been building skateable structures all over the world for over 30 years. We wanted the best for Savannah, so we chose the best.
During that two-year period we were busy spreading the word about the park and raising funds. Adam Williams (our secretary) worked for Marc by Marc Jacobs in downtown Savannah. He wrote a proposal with the company to help raise funds for the skatepark. Marc Jacobs began a t-shirt campaign with all proceeds going toward the skatepark. We have received a little over 115K from that campaign. Marc Jacobs himself even came to Savannah to do an in-store autograph signing, and there was a line around the corner that day! It was pretty crazy. Marc Jacobs sat there all day and signed every autograph and posed for every photo like a champ. We are truly grateful to that organization for everything they do and continue to do for us. We also held some local fundraisers that included a skateboard art show called “All hands on deck” that featured over 40 local and national artists. The custom skateboards were all silently auctioned off, and we rose over 10K in one night for the skatepark. In the summer of 2012, we applied for the Tony Hawk Foundation grant. For me it was a bit nerve-racking. I had just defended my master’s thesis in mid June and the grant application was due in July. I was mentally exhausted from my grad school obligations, but I knew now was the time to apply for the grant. Well, we applied, and we received big time! Our organization was the proud recipient of a 25K grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation. 25 grand is the highest amount of money that the THF gives out, and it is regarded as one of the highest achievements in skatepark advocacy. It was now time to put things into action.
In the Fall of 2012, we selected Thomas & Hutton Engineers to provide the engineering work for the skatepark. Once the plans were engineered by T&H, they were sent off for review by the county and then on to permitting by the City of Savannah. The county review took only a few weeks with minimal comments. However, the city review took over seven months with several different revisions. Luckily our engineer was able to work with the city and address all of their concerns. We finally received our permits for the skatepark in December of 2013. We immediately put the bids out for the site grading.
We ended up sending out Requests For Proposals to 9 different site grading companies. Three of those companies picked up bid packages, and only two submitted bids. So we had two companies to choose from and they were both about 10K apart from each other. Also, both of the bids were over 150K! That was our entire budget! So we took the rest of 2014 to decide on whom to use for the site grading. Then by chance I was recommended a site grading company by a friend. I contacted this company, and we went to the site to meet and discuss the project. Then a month or so later, we chose Superior Excavation Contractors as the site grading contractor.
Based on our permits with the City of Savannah, we needed to have a pre-construction meeting at the skatepark site with all parties involved (city, county, contractors, etc…) by mid-December. We met that deadline and decided to begin the site grading in mid-January. We had to begin construction in 2015 anyway, so lets start the year off with a bang! Our organization and the county decided to have an official groundbreaking at the end of March, and we did. We had a huge turnout and a bunch of young kids breaking ground with all of the county officials. It was awesome to see all of the support! We’ve scheduled Team Pain Skateparks to arrive in the beginning of 2016 to begin construction on the skatepark. We still have a good bit more money to raise, and we intend on doing just that!
Nothing good in life comes easy. This skatepark effort is a testament to that statement. Adam Williams and I have both earned our Master’s Degrees in the over the course of this effort in Savannah. Adam has since moved to New York City to pursue a career in photography. Kathryn Williams, myself, and a few other dedicated individuals have dedicated their free time to get through this last fundraising hurdle.