Friday, November 29, 2013

Underserved community in need of a skate park

Mack in front of his 9th Ward Village Skatepark

Ward “Mack” McClendon wanted to convert an old sugar refinery laboratory building in the Lower Ninth Ward into a garage for antique cars. He figured classic cars would be needed when New Orleans became the no. 1 place in the country for movie production. That dream ended when the neighborhood flooded after Hurricane Katrina.

“The need for the community overrides my need for cars,” he said recently.

Since then, McClendon has struggled to turn his 10,000-square-foot warehouse called the Lower 9th Ward Village into a skateboard park and multipurpose community center.  A year ago, Mountain Dew funded the concrete ramps, but no more.

“They wanted to do something in the Lower Ninth Ward,” he said.

The ramps are built and ready for young athletes, but the building’s electrical system must be brought up to code and liability insurance acquired before he can let the neighborhood kids inside.

On Saturday, Nov. 30, from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m., McClendon and friends will hold a fundraiser at the Lower 9th Ward Village, 1001 Charbonnet St., to start working toward that ambitious $30,000 goal. They plan to serve homemade gumbo, red beans and rice and entertainment, including local musicians and comedians.

In the summer of 2012, the Ninth Ward Village partnered with Just One Board, the Make It Right Foundation, the Tony Hawk Foundation, Urban 9 Skate Shop and Humidity Skate Shop to give 1,000 children refurbished skateboards. McClendon hoped to be able to open the skate park shortly thereafter.

“I’ve never taken on a project this big. I definitely could not see from beginning to end,” McClendon said with resignation. “It’s like the world has forgotten about us.”

“Skaters are not attracted to traditional sports,” said Peter Whitley, program director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, a San Diego nonprofit that supports the creation of public skateboard parks that promote healthy, active lifestyles. His organization helped local skaters negotiate with the city of New Orleans to get an official skate park under I-610 in Gentilly. The nonprofit the skaters formed is called Transitional Spaces.

Last February, the City of New Orleans voted to make the Parisite, near Paris Avenue, part of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, but it is too far away for Ninth Ward skaters without transportation.A city this size usually has three or four skate parks, said Emilie Taylor, design build manager with Tulane City Center, which completed “visioning” designs for the Parisite skate park.

Meanwhile, McClendon continues to fundraise for the 9th Ward Village.

“A skate park would give kids an opportunity to do something different to express themselves because there are not many other recreational activities in the area,” said Keisha Henry, co-owner of Café Dauphine and a trained recreational therapist.

Two recent University of California Berkeley graduates who studied environmental policy, Rebecca Fisher-McGinty and Chika Kondo, are helping McClendon raise money. They have committed to work a year to assist with his Lower 9th Ward projects, including an oral history.

“We volunteered here three years and developed a deeper understanding of the place,” Kondo said.

“Mack’s values align with mine,” she said.

Tickets to the Village fundraiser are $15 at the door, $10 pre-sale. Call (504) 302-1920 or (504) 402-4284 for tickets.

This story originally appeared in The New Orleans Advocate.


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