St. Louis is still one of the only major U.S. cities without a legally sanctioned skateboarding park, but an entrepreneurial group of skateboarders is days away from changing all that.
After years of fundraising, organizing, hosting meetings and working with local politicians, the Kingshighway Vigilante Transitions (KHVT) plan to break ground on its skate park-slash-public garden in south city's Bevo neighborhood on March 15.
For information on how to donate to the skate park, go to page two.
"It's not just for the kids and the skateboarders; it's going to be a nice place to hang out," says Bryan Bedwell, the chairman of the board of directors for KHVT, a 501c3 nonprofit. "Everybody is pretty much for it because if there's a skate park, then there is no excuse for us not to skate there. You can't just say skateboarding is illegal and not give us a place to go do it."
But that's exactly what the city of St. Louis has always done, until the skateboarding vigilantes took it upon themselves to build a DIY skate spot under the Kingshighway bridge.
"Basically, just a bunch of skaters got together and built a park and asked forgiveness later," Bedwell tells the Daily RFT. "That shows there's a need for it."
While the Kingshighway park was technically illegal, the skateboarders' ingenuity and pluck impressed city officials.
"I was amazed at how clean it was kept," says St. Louis Streets director Todd Waelterman. When Waelterman saw how the skateboarders built ramps, cleared trash and covered graffiti, he offered to help with supplies, donating a city dumpster and extra concrete. "These are no dummies. I've been very proud of them."
But the bridge above the makeshift skate park is literally falling apart. The city is tearing it down and plans to replace it in late fall or early summer, forcing the skateboarders to find a new home.
"It's basically falling down on our heads now," Bedwell says.
So KHVT found a new home for its skate park, at 4415 Morganford Road, just a few miles south of the Kingshighway location.
Alderwoman Carol Howard helped the skaters rent a 14,000-square-foot property for $1 a year and is using funds from the 14th Ward to buy a fence to surround the park, Bedwell says.
The skate park KHTV plans to build -- named the Peter Mathews Memorial Skate Garden, after a local skateboarder who died in a car accident -- typically costs six figures, Bedwell says. But KHTV's partnerships with the city, the Tony Hawk Foundation and Team Pain skate-park builders, mean St. Louis can build a skate park for a fraction of the cost.
"We are going to be able to give St. Louis a $100,000 skate park for $30,000 because we have all these people behind us to help," says Bedwell.
KHVT is asking for $5,000 to build its park. Get the breakdown behind the cost on the next page.
To be honest, the skateboarding community is a little burnt out on the fundraising for the new skate park, says Bryan Bedwell, the chairman of the board of directors for KHVT.
"The skaters of St. Louis have already been donating...hard-earned money for seven years now," Bedwell says. "They are kind of tired of it."
That frustration peaked when the skaters realized they were losing the Kingshighway park they built with their own time, labor and materials while the city replaces the crumbling structure.
"The city is tearing down our spot we spent all our money and time on," Bedwell says. "I'm thinking, 'Hey, you guys are basically tearing down our $100,00 skate park we built out of our own blood and sweat and whatever. At some point, somebody's got to pony up some cash."
So KHVT is looking outside its skateboarding community for funds -- and finding willing partners.
Team Pain, a company from Florida that builds skate parks all over the country, says it will build the park for St. Louis for free if KHTV can get land, supplies and volunteers. "Skate parks cost thousands and thousands of dollars, but [Team Pain] loves us, and they are behind us because we are one of the few major cities that doesn't have a free public skate park," Bedwell says. "They can't stand it. They think it's a travesty."
KHVT also applied for and won a matching $5,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation, which funds parks across the country. Usually, the foundation requires cities to have professional builders on-call before awarding funds, but KHVT's promise of volunteer labor won them the money.
KHVT is also working with local gardening groups, which bring their own funding to the project and will organize community planter beds in the skate park.
But Bedwell doesn't mind working for the money.
"It breeds a feeling of ownership," he says.