In the latest round of demands from state and federal highway officials, Charleston’s planned new skatepark near the intersection of Meeting and Huger streets would have to be designed so as not to include sections underneath the Interstate and state highway overpasses in the area. This could mean that the city ends up with either a smaller park or a different park location altogether.
More than a year after the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission set aside $2 million from its reserve funds to build a skatepark, more than $50,000 of that money has been spent — but not a single bowl, ramp, or rail has gone up. That’s because the S.C. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration have jurisdiction over the city-owned land underneath I-26 and Highway 17 and have demanded that a battery of studies be done before anyone starts pouring concrete.
“They’re not used to people building parks under their Interstates and ramps,” says Hernan Peña, director of the Charleston Department of Traffic and Transportation. Peña says most of the demands from the SCDOT and FHA have been reasonable, including requests for security, drainage, and environmental studies. But he says officials have also been demanding information that won’t be available until the city and county begin their design phase — which won’t begin until highway officials sign off on the current feasibility phase.
Peña says the issues are not deal-breakers, and he has requested a meeting with the SCDOT, FHA, city and county officials, and representatives from skatepark design company Team Pain, which has been contracted to draw up the blueprints. He hopes that, with everybody in the same room, they will be able to resolve any remaining conflicts, including the matter of whether construction will be allowed underneath the overpasses or near their support columns. He says he is “fairly confident” that the current site will work out.
Tom O’Rourke, executive director of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, says the biggest potential deal-breaker in talks with highway officials could be the question of whether any part of the skatepark is allowed to be built under the overpasses.
“At the beginning of this process, we had a vision for what we wanted the skatepark to be,” O’Rourke says. “We said a minimum of 40,000 square feet, probably 60,000 square feet, and that’s what we want to build.” The vision, he says, is for a large park that will become a regional attraction.
O’Rourke says the meeting with the federal and state highway officials will likely be scheduled within the next 30 days, and if the skatepark ends up getting less than 40,000 square feet of land for construction, he will have to start looking at other sites for the park.