Pensacola, Florida
Saturday May 25th 2019


The Skate Debate

By Jeremy Morrison

Skateboarding is not a crime. Except for, as per municipal ordinance, when it is. And for a few days in April, rumblings from the Pensacola City Council appeared to indicate officials might be considering a citywide ban on the sport.

That notion struck local skater, realtor and Upward Intuition founder Jon Shell as strange. City council members had seemed pretty hip on skating when they’d given his Upward Intuition non-profit the green light to pursue constructing a skate park in downtown Pensacola.

“I don’t think that ban is going to pass,” Shell estimated. “A city-wide skateboarding ban? That’s ridiculous.”

Turns out Shell was kinda right. It was never even a thing.

“There is no controversy,” City Councilwoman Sherri Myers clarified a few days after musing about a city-wide ban during a public meeting. “There is nothing. It’s a non-issue.”

By the time Myers cleaned up the confusion, Shell had secured a slot at the council’s May meeting and fired up the local skateboarding community for a long night of public comments. But Shell was already planning to speak with council less about a potential ban and more about the possibility of the city kicking in municipal funding for the downtown skate park.

“Every obstacle presents different opportunities,” Shell said. “I think it’s an opportunity for everyone to come together in one place and figure out how we can make this thing happen, like, now.”

Skate or Die Laughing
This talk of a skateboarding ban is rooted somewhere between a misunderstanding and a joke. And it’s actually pretty funny.

The whole thing started when Councilman Brian Spencer asked the city council to consider a ban covering Veterans Memorial Park, an act he’s since learned can be unilaterally accomplished by the Parks and Recreation Department. “In this particular case, there’s no council action required,” Spencer said.

“Veterans Park is a place that’s made for more peaceful, solitude reflections,” Spencer later explained his rationale for that ban. “It has a collection of memorials to those that were injured or lost their lives defending our country.”

But when the councilman originally breached the subject during a council agenda session, Myers asked why the ban should only apply to the park—near downtown—and not the entire city, places like her District 2.

“I just made, really, a snide remark,” Myers said. “It was just really a jab at Brian Spencer.”

To follow this joke, you have to be familiar with some background and characters. Pensacola has, especially in recent history, lavished much attention and finances on downtown, which Spencer represents. Myers is forever reminding council of this fact, as well as pointing out various needs within her own district that she feels go neglected.

Councilman Spencer didn’t follow the joke: “Not at all.”

Neither did local media, which took the councilwoman seriously. A flurry of coverage proceeded—with the story getting picked up as far away as Tampa—and a wildfire ignited on social media, where the local skating community dropped their collective jaw and Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill posted a video of himself skating downtown in case it was soon banned.

“I can’t help how people react to things,” Myers said, adding that she feels the media misrepresented the matter.

Spencer has a different take.

“I think once she saw the pushback she thought she could retreat and reframe that,” the councilman said.

While Spencer didn’t really get the joke, he can still laugh about it.

“The most predictable thing about Sherri is her unpredictability,” he said.

Shell didn’t really get the joke either.

“To me, it didn’t sound like a joke or sarcasm,” the skater said.

But Shell did reap the benefits of Myers’ comments. Upward Intuition is eyeing a couple of upcoming grants for the skate park, and the councilwoman’s talk of a ban really lit things up.

“Really, it was a blessing for us because we were able to put it on Facebook, and were getting so much free press,” Shell laughed. “Just in the last few days we’ve gotten to educate so many people about the skate park.”

Half-Pipe Dreamin’
Shell first pitched the concept of a skate park in honor of his friend Blake Doyle, who was hit and killed by a train, a couple of years ago. City officials were keen on the idea, donating the city-owned property underneath a stretch of I-110 and giving the skater the go-ahead to pursue funding.

Upward Intuition, the non-profit Shell founded to build the city’s first public skate park, has since worked to piece together money for the project. The organization has received a collection of grants and gifts, and they’re hoping for more.

A good chunk of the funds collected so far—about $100,000 of it—has gone toward design work. Shell enlisted California-based Spohn Ranch, which built the ramp skateboarding legend Tony Hawk pulled the first 900 on.

On paper, the plans are primo. Shell even ran them by the folks at the Tony Hawk Foundation.

“When they saw the design, they said we’re gonna have one of the best facilities in the country,” he said.

But the park is also expensive, with an overall price tag approaching $1.5 million, a heavy lift for Upward Intuition fundraising efforts.

That’s where Shell is hoping the city can help. He’s hoping to parlay recent attention garnered by council’s discussion regarding a ban—as well as more general concerns over skateboarders damaging property in Veterans Memorial Park and other areas—into a commitment of dollars from the city.

“It really needs to be a partnership,” Shell said, pointing out that the city routinely funds other sports and their associated facilities.

Shell also notes that Upward Intuition is only asking for help, not the whole enchilada.

“The skaters have shown we have a significant amount of skin in the game; we’re bringing a significant amount of the money to the table,” he said. “It’s realistic to think that by the end of the year we could bring half a million dollars to the table.”

Spencer said he was expecting a more straightforward update on the skate park’s progress, maybe some blowback from Myers’s comments. Not necessarily a request for funding.

“I didn’t know that was going to be his ask,” Spencer said, allowing that it might be a reasonable direction to explore. “Certainly he can do that, and I think it’s a valid request.”

The councilman stopped short of throwing his weight behind the city jumping in too deep.

“I would support the council participating in a funding role—not completely,” Spencer said.

Myers might not be game for throwing more money toward downtown. But she’d love to see a park in District 2.

“Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe we will have a conversation about having more skate parks in the north end,” Myers said. “That’s a conversation I’d like to have.”

Shell’s expecting a bit of resistance. It’s a pretty big ask. But he’s hopeful city officials will find the park worthy.

“Cities are always going to say that they’re broke,” Shell said. “But they can always find money for things that are important.”


City Council Meeting After-party

A good number of skaters are likely to show up for the skate park presentation during Pensacola City Council’s May meeting this Thursday, May 10. Afterwards, they’ll have an opportunity to throw some money towards the project at Perfect Plain Brewing Co., where a portion of the evening’s proceeds will be donated to the skate park.

“When people are passionate about doing something that they think is going to make Pensacola more vibrant, we get behind that,” said D.C. Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Perfect Plain.

The event, dubbed Support Pensacola Skateboarding, is slated to run from 6 p.m. to midnight at the Garden Street brewery. In addition to multiple beers on tap, the evening will also feature food from Nomadic Eats. Both businesses will donate a portion of the night’s proceeds to Upward Intuition.

The post-meeting party—which actually begins shortly after the city council meeting does—may also feature live music and possibly a skateboarding event, if logistics allow.

“We’re working on that,” Reeves said. “If possible, we’re gonna do it.”

Reeves said that he felt Upward Intuition’s presentation offered an ideal opportunity for such a fundraising event and thought the skate park was a worthy cause due to the value—both tangible and otherwise—it would bring to downtown.

“I think it’s an awesome thing for our community and our community’s children,” Reeves said, adding that he also felt the park would positively impact nearby property values and bring a certain vibrancy to downtown.

“Skateboarding and skateboarding culture does that,” he said. “It makes Pensacola more vibrant.”

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 10
WHERE: Pensacola City Hall, 222 W. Main St.

WHEN: 7 p.m.-Midnight Thursday, May 10
WHERE: Perfect Plain Brewing Co., 50 E. Garden St.