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Skate park group seeks Manchester's endorsement for renovations

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 09. 2012 9:06PM

MANCHESTER - A new, enclosed skate park in the shadows of the Gill Stadium-JFK Coliseum would carry a price tag of as much at $3 million, supporters say.

Jim DeStefano, a local commercial real estate broker and a parent, says preliminary engineering studies have been completed for several alternatives, ranging from an enclosed facility with an attached community building to a redesigned skating bowl.

DeStefano and a core group of advocates have been working for several months to upgrade and expand the city's Adam D. Curtis Skate Park, located in the shadows of Gill Stadium and the coliseum.

"Here is an area we can turn into another crown jewel in the most important recreational area in our region," DeStefano said.

A key component of the plans that architects have sketched for the group is making the Regis Lemire Community Center part of the skate park complex.

"Incorporating the community center gets the supervision to the skate park," DeStefano said. "It means amenities and (an adult) presence."

The most ambitious of the possibilities is the $3 million enclosed park that would include the community center as part of the physical boundary of the skate park.

The group intends to privately finance the project, but needs city support in the form of leasing the site to a nonprofit corporation and allowing the Lemire center to be included.

The group also has several scaled-down possibilities with smaller price tags.

"An open-air park with a pole roof and fencing similar to what is at the Boys & Girls Club playground area, sturdy fencing and improvements to the community center is roughly $2 million.

"There are also improvements to the bowl area, which just wasn't build correctly," DeStefano said. "That is roughly $300,000 to $500,000."

Interviews with skating enthusiasts have brought complaints that many of the existing rails and ramps are not skater-friendly.

Curtis is a user-funded skate park, built with the aid of sponsorships and maintained through membership fees.

Skate-boarding is popular in inner-city neighborhoods, and some officials, such as Alderman Joyce Craig, have questioned the wisdom of taking a city-owned facility and converting it to a membership club.

But DeStefano said the teens who will use the facility need to have an investment in it to make sure it doesn't draw troublemakers and vandals.

"It's, frankly, my opinion that you need to have these kids have a skin in the game," he said "We could try to accommodate the real user in need if they simply can't afford it."

Supporters of the renovations are seeking an endorsement from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen's Land and Buildings Committee for the idea of incorporating the community center building into the project. They believe community support is strong for the project.

A nonprofit corporation has been formed that would build and operate the new park.

"In general, everyone loves the idea, but we still have to sell the viability of the project," DeStefano said.

Part of the pitch requires seed money, to pay for some of the basics.

A group of Southern New Hampshire University students got involved this fall in planning and running a fundraising event last Saturday.

The students are members of a business studies class taught by Susan Losapio, an assistant professor in the SNHU business department as part of a small business management program.

Twenty students, most juniors or seniors, are enrolled in the course.

"We set up a management team, a sales team, a finance and accounting team and a marketing team," Losapio said. "What they've been doing over the semester is working on things like a budget for the fundraiser, marketing on Twitter, a Facebook page and website and soliciting donations for a silent auction."

Students in the course have had to learn to think on their feet in a way that book learning cannot simulate.

"The best part of the learning for them is we have had to change course several times over the semester and punt," Losapio said. "We have had to reinvent ourselves and reinvent what we are going to do so that are learning that being a small business is not as predictable as they thought."

Money raised in last weekend's event will be used to pay some of the expenses of preparing, copying and distributing plans and proposals and other ground-floor expenses.

The students have also made initial contact with a foundation created by Tony Hawk, a retired professional skateboarder with a wide and devoted following.

It is seed money, and supporters say the funds and the support of the city can help give life to the project.

"It would allow us to go to the community and say 'this isn't a pipe dream, we have the city behind us," DeStefano said. "Manchester has a compelling story, this would just fit so perfectly in that area of the community."

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