About 200 skateboarders, BMX bikers, and in-line skaters zoom roller-rink-style around the Mid-South Fairgrounds' Youth Building Thursday afternoon. A crowd of onlookers, some clutching skateboards or perched on half-pipe ramps, snap photos or video with their camera phones.
They're here to show support for a free city skate park. The rally, organized by the City of Memphis Parks Department, drew about 450 skaters and bikers ranging from tweens with their mothers to men and women in their mid-40s.
Currently, the city has no public skate park, and its only private skate park, the Skatepark of Memphis, is closing its doors on May 5th after years of financial trouble.
"We've been talking about building a skate park for a number of years, but we've had a hard time gauging the need for one. It's hard to find skaters all in one place to see how many people would be willing to use it," says city parks director Cindy Buchanan.
Each skater or supporter is counted as they walk through the door Thursday. The city will use the total number to determine whether or not a skate park would be well-utilized.
"Right now, skaters are out there causing damage to sidewalks and benches, but we know they're not trying to damage city infrastructure," Buchanan says. "They just want to have a good time, but they don't have anywhere to go."
Currently, the city is considering building a skate park downtown, on Mud Island, or possibly building several small skate parks inside neighborhood parks.
"Anywhere in the city limits would be fine with me," says Adam Key, who currently skateboards at the Skatepark of Memphis.
Located inside a large warehouse in Cordova, the Skatepark of Memphis has provided a place to skate since 2002.
"We can't handle the cost of running the park anymore — the insurance, the rent," says Skatepark owner Josh Lowery, clutching his board at the city rally. "This year, we've seen a decline in people willing to pay to skate. People want to get in free, and I agree that it should be free to skate."
The Skatepark of Memphis charges $10 for three hours of skating time.
"Closing is a bummer for me and all the kids who skate there, but we're trying to use the situation to gain support for a public park," Lowery says.
The Cordova Board Shop, a skating supply shop next door to the Skatepark of Memphis, will remain open but will move to a new location near the corner of Macon and Germantown Parkway. It is scheduled to re-open in June.