More than 18,000 people have signed a petition to preserve an illegally-built skatepark underneath an Interstate 85 bridge close to the site of the recent bridge collapse.
The petition, which will be delivered to Mayor Kasim Reed, Gov. Nathan Deal and several Georgia Department of Transportation officials has received national attention from supporters and members of the skateboarding community, earning signatures from states as far away as Arizona.
Jennifer Chesnokov, who started the Change.org petition, said she is an avid skater who was called to action when she learned GDOT would be destroying the park.
“I understand that they want to set precedent” by destroying guerilla construction, Chesnokov said, but “It’s such a work of art and it’s cherished by so many skaters in Atlanta as a private park, and it could be made public and cherished by everyone.”
“I couldn’t sit and do nothing.”
The skatepark was shut down recently following an 11Alive report which uncovered that the park had been built without permits or permission from GDOT.
Joe Flores, who signed the petition, used to skate at the park and said he met the builders. He called the park a “crown jewel” for the community, because it was built to be more challenging for experienced skaters than a city-built park could be.
Similar parks have been built elsewhere in the United States, notably Burnside Skate Park in Oregon. The park, which was built under the Burnside Bridge, was sanctioned by the city after having been illegally constructed by members of the skate community, according to skateoregon.com.
Peter Whiteley, programs director at the Tony Hawk Foundation, said the motion to open the Atlanta park to the public rather than destroy it has the backing of the foundation, which is devoted to creating public skateboard parks in low-income communities.
It donated thousands of dollars to help with the construction of a skate park in Old Fourth Ward.
“In many, many cases across the nation we’ve seen projects like this gain administrative support and approval and go on to live happy and long lives as recreational facilities,” Whiteley said. “It’s a beautiful facility and whatever was there before certainly doesn’t match its value.”
Chesnokov and one of the builders of the park, who goes by “Instabummed” on Instagram, said that a Thursday meeting with GDOT “went well.”
The meeting tonight went very well. The DOT is going to work with us and the handful of other parties involved to save the skatepark. NOTHING IS 100% YET!!! There are many people involved and we are still working to get the City of Atlanta on our side. Their representative attended the meeting as an “observer”, but Im sure we will get their support in the long run! PLEASE STAY OUT OF THE PARK! We must respect their requests to make this work. We are beginning the permit process now and hope to soon open this as a public space dedicated to our fallen friend as the James Way Memorial Skatepark🙌🏻. Thanks to GDOT, @southforkconservancy , @byrd21983 and the City of Atlanta for giving us the opportunity to try and save this space. SIGN THE PETITION! We obviously love this city lets see if they get our back! #bridgelife #mlbl4l #jamesway #jameswaymemorialskatepark
While GDOT did not respond to WABE’s multiple requests for comment in time for publication, a representative did tell 11Alive the agency will be meeting with the skating community to figure out how to move forward.
Mayor Kasim Reed said in a press conference Friday that while he doesn’t condone the park, it’s the result of a “creative” community.
“I certainly don’t condone it and [I’m] not for it. But I won’t feign being shocked,” Reed said. “Those kinds of things will occur because people are creative, and they will use certain parts of the city creatively.”