Growing up in Palmetto Bay, 26-year-old Nick Katz might never have met his childhood best friends if it hadn’t been for skateboarding. He was a Jewish kid who lived in a nice home near Biscayne Bay. The guys he skated with were young Jamaican dudes from West Perrine.
"The thing that bonded us all was the sport," Katz says. "It was this complete harmonizing of different groups of kids."
Friendships that bridge socioeconomic divides are just one of the reasons he says downtown Miami needs a public skate park.
"The accessibility of the sport comes from once you have a board, you can skate," Katz says.
It’s been two years since Katz’s organization, Skate Free, won a $10,000 grant from the Miami Foundation's Public Space Challenge for the idea of a public skate park under an I-95 overpass in downtown, at NW Third Avenue and First Street. The group signed a ten-year lease on the 40,000-square-foot lot in December and plans to break ground June 21, Go Skateboarding Day.
"Essentially, we’re poised to start building this thing," Katz says. "We’re in the reality stage."
The group has raised about $250,000 and recently secured a private investor who will match donations up to $600,000. Katz says about $800,000 total is needed to get started on the skate park, known now as the Lot 11 Skate Plaza.
The project hit a snag after $75,000 in funding promised by former Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff fell through, though Katz still hopes city leaders will see the value the skate park could bring to the area. New District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell came out to a Skate Free event last week at Marlins Park, where the fun-loving commish landed a "pretty awesome" kickflip, Katz says. Check out the video:
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Katz says the biggest hurdle so far is convincing donors and officials that skateboarding is about more than "weed-smoking 14-year-olds."
"We need more viable, inexpensive forms of physical activity for kids to engage in that will give them confidence and teach them