Ramping up support for skate park in Kensington

Kensington locals are backing Steve Miller’s new skateboard park. But he doesn’t have enough money to finish building it.

In Kensington, two elderly women walk beside an old playground covered with cement mixers, shovels and bricks. A chain-link fence surrounds the area, but they peer through it. They’re checking the progress of the old park, known as Pop’s Playground.

Longtime residents Joan Lentz, 61 and Theresa Hale, 60, said it has been “years and years” since the playground has been used.

That won’t be the case for long. Employees from Exit Philadelphia skate shop, along with the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, are transforming the playground into a skateboard park. Lentz smiles as she recounts walking past the park recently and seeing the volunteers working.

“There were about 15 of them,” she said. “Neighborhood kids too, all working together on it.”

Lentz is pleased that Pop’s Playground will soon hold a skateboard park. Earning the support of neighborhood residents is no small feat, but the Exit employees seemed to have earned it.

“It’s favorable, of course,” Jim Primo, a local pizza shop owner, said.

The park will take the place of a vacant lot. It will sit next to a basketball court and jungle gym at Pop’s Playground. Plans for the park include a landscaping project and art from Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program.

“It’s good for the kids,” Primo said. “If more business is a side effect, I’ll take it and say ‘thank you.’ It’s just good to see people outside.”

After plans for the new skateboard park were made, NKCDC enlisted the help of Exit skate shop owner, Steve Miller. The corporation provided Miller with access to the land and helped him gain sponsorship from Glenworth Financial, which has donated $2,500.

Jesse Clayton, project manager and an Exit employee, said the project will cost approximately $20,000. Since the park is maintained completely on volunteer work, the donation only covers the cost of goods. So far, they have $5,000.

But $15,000 is a large bill for a project that Clayton thinks “will most likely be 100 percent finished by winter.”

Some proceeds came from Exit’s art show on July 14, which Amble Gallery hosted. The show featured more than 30 pieces of skateboard-inspired works, which were auctioned off to fund the project.

For one night, Johnny Brenda’s bar and restaurant will donate its top floor to the cause, allowing Miller to do what he wants with the space. He plans to host a party with local DJs White T’s and White Belts and charge a small cover fee.

Other volunteers include Justin Berry from the G-Spot skate shop in Langhorne, Pa., and Brandon John from the Kinetic skate shop in Wilmington, Del.

“I spent one day carrying cinder blocks from one side of the park to the other, and ripping up the foundation so that trees can be planted,” Berry said.

The committee for Paine’s Park, an upcoming skateboard park near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is working with Miller and NKCDC to complete the project, and is donating $1,000 for the cause.

Clayton is also involved with the Paine’s Park project.

“The playground is going to be a much smaller, yet much more immediate project than Paine’s Park,” he said. “But in a short amount of time, we will be able to pacify the skate community fairly inexpensively.”

The blueprint for Pop’s Playground features cone-shaped tree planters that are similar to those near the African American Museum, which was recently fenced in to keep skateboarders away. The new park will replicate other areas that skateboarders frequent.

Clayton doesn’t have a set date for the park’s opening.

“It’s hard to tell,” he said. “Everything is based on the amount of volunteer work we get.”

Miller doesn’t want the park to follow the trend of extreme skateboard parks, which he said are a waste of money, dangerous, and inconsiderate to the surrounding community. He said he believes in transforming the unused land.

“Pop’s Playground is a template, an unused court just like hundreds of others across the city,” Miller said. “More important than building a project like this, is the ability to show that the skating community can join together to create something that revitalizes and maintains a neighborhood.”

As the two older women pass the playground, walking with bags of groceries to their respective homes, Hale, who barely spoke a word, breaks the silence.

“There’s too much drugs going on,” she said. “Maybe this will help [the children]. I pray to God it will.”

Nicole Volpicelli can be reached at nicole.volpicelli@temple.edu.

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