Extreme Mayor Supports Skateboarding

Political apathy may soon be a thing of the past amongst skateboarders.

And part of the reason is the goodwill of Mayor Dave Armstrong of Louisville, Kentucky.

Armstrong was elected as mayor of the City of Louisville in 1999. The population of the Louisville metropolitan area is approximately one-million residents. Armstrong spearheaded–on his own initiative–the opening of the city’s new major skatepark. The first outdoor concrete phase of the park was just finished at a cost of 2.5-million dollars. The second phase is comprised of an indoor wooden skatepark, concessions area, and restaurants–all encased in a clear glass building–and will be done soon at a cost of two-million dollars.

Phase one, which opened on April 5, features 40,000 square feet of skateable terrain, surfaced with shotcrete to give the park a marble-smooth concrete finish. The outdoor park features bowls, a full street course, a vert ramp, and a twenty-foot full pipe. “It’s the only one in America,” says Armstrong proudly. “We have rails around the outside of the park for in-line skating and allow BMX bikes as well.”

“It’s open 24 hours a day, there’s no charge for admission, it’s well lit, and we have a call-down box for police and medical injuries. There’s a television station that’s running a streamer on its Web page that shows the park from five different cameras, so you can monitor who’s there 24 hours a day.”

News of the park spread fast. Over 4,000 people attended the opening-day ceremony, and the park is currently attracting hundreds–sometimes even thousands–of people a day, says the mayor, adding that locals have been overwhelmingly supportive. Even older nearby residents have been stoked. Rather than complain about noise or increased traffic, they’re bringing lawn chairs to come and watch the skateboarding. “I find public perception in this community to be positive,” says Armstrong. “I think there’s such allure for people yet to master the sport and become ‘extreme sportists.’ They (people) need to understand the psyche behind it. This (skateboarding) is one sport where there is a high degree of mannerisms. So people are very polite and considerate to each other.”

Phase two, expected to be completed by November and open by December, will be an indoor 20,000-square-foot wooden skating surface contained in an all-glass see-through building with two levels. The first level will have bowls and a street course. The second level “will lead to the roof for skating on the roof and a succession of three mini ramps,” says Armstrong. Other amenities to be included in the indoor facility are a concession area with a pro shop, a locker area, restrooms, and a horizontal climbing wall attached to the building. Funding for the building is set at two-million dollars, in addition to the total land cost of 1.5-million dollars.

It’s clear that no detail has been overlooked in the construction of the park. Zach Wormhoudt designed the skatepark, and World Cup Skateboarding’s Dave Duncan designed the vert ramp. Stanley Saitowitz–the architect who designed San Francisco’s Embarcadero, designed the clear glass building in which the indoor skatepark will be.

The reason for Armstrong’s meticulous effort and attention to detail was to provide an ideal venue for attracting future X-Games.

Armstrong explains how his attraction to skateboarding began to develop when he first became mayor. “I had received a phone call from Linda Moore from ESPN,” he says. “She was part creator of the Extreme Games and was looking for a place to locate the trials for the finals that were in San Francisco at the time.

“So we held the trials during the (Kentucky) Derby’s festival event, about two weeks before the Derby. It (the X-Trials) became the best-attended event that ESPN’s extreme sports had ever had at that time. It averaged about 90,000 people a day over the three-day period.

“So the following year, Linda Moore and her staff said they were coming back thee next year for the B3 Games. We’ve had the B3 twice since then, and we’re an applicant for the (X-Games) finals when they leave Philadelphia.

“We hope that this park, which is an ideal venue to watch the games, is a contestant for the finals,” he says.

Armstrong pauses to reflect upon his enlightened perspective on skateboarding. He laughs, and exclaims: “Even though my son and I had skateboarded together years ago, the interest in the sport was beyond my imagination. Even how high the attraction by older people to watch the sport as spectators was as well.”

The park is also a great tourist attraction, with its prime location as part of the city’s waterfront project. However, having skateboarded in the past, Armstrong displays a keen and genuine desire to support the sport and provide skateboarders with as ideal conditions to skateboard under as possible. “I was skateboarding in the old days, with just a piece of plywood with wheels on it,” he says. “Nothing like the technically advanced skateboards you see today.”

Nevertheless, as excited about the park opening as any other skateboarder in town, Armstrong showed up that day with his board. It’s noteworthy that the idea of the park and the enormous funds allocated to it were all out of the mayor’s own interest and initiative, rather than in response to a group of skateboarders actively seeking city support and seeking funding to build a skatepark.

All in all, it’s amazing how a former skateboarder could still have the respect and love for the sport today that he had when he was skating back in the sport’s early years. Not to mention that such positive youth-oriented interest and support is rarely found in today’s politicians. Maintaining this is one of Armstrong?s key goals. “Louisville will be one of those all-American sports cities, if it isn’t already,” he says. “We think it’s good for the community. It helps to define our community to be more youth-oriented than it’s ever been, and that’s something I’ve been working toward. I’m an extreme mayor. That’s what the extreme athletes call me. And I think it’s great.”

Skateboarders are slowly entering the realm of politics, with the potential to change the shape of government legislation in favor of skateboarding. Times are changing. The idea that today’s skateboarders are tomorrow’s politicians is becoming a reality.

When Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood star, ran for president in 1980, people all over the world mused at how amusingly ‘American’ it was that an actor could run for president of the United States.

Well, popular culture continues to evolve–and it’s probably safe to say that if Tony Hawk runs for president in about ten years, he’ll win. Americans seem to know his name better than they do Ralph Nader’s.

And lets hope his political values lean towards providing all Americans with the right to free quality health care, education, and a skatepark.

Check out the Louisville Extreme Park’s Web site at: louky.org/skatepark.