The skater way 

Leading the charge on public/private partnerships

What does it take to get a public works project completed in this town?

As the population of Missoula grows, and municipal budgets fail to grow accordingly, agencies like Missoula Parks and Recreation are relying more heavily on the private sector to fund new projects. Case in point: the proposed aquatics center project is facing a $1.8 million shortfall. Now project supporters are calling on the public to help make up the difference.

In a climate where public/private partnerships seem to be the only way to get large public works projects off the ground, the Missoula Skatepark Association is writing the manual on how to get things done.

Imagine a day when “skater moms” outnumber “soccer moms.” Try to picture caravans of parents in Subaru Outbacks and Volkswagen Jettas dropping youngsters off at the park with skateboards rather than baseball mitts in hand. Think of a place where athletes of all ages practice their sport together in harmony, and where shouts of “sick” and “bad” are complimentary words of encouragement?

That’s just part of the vision for Missoula’s future skatepark at McCormick Park, and it’s soon to become a reality thanks in large part to the efforts of the Missoula Skatepark Association (MSA).

With summer officially here, MSA is ramping up its fund-raising efforts in hopes of breaking ground on the $500,000 concrete skatepark this fall. To get there, MSA is using every tool available to raise the additional $225,000 needed to break ground.

“Missoula recognizes the need for a skatepark in this community. The biggest challenge now will be getting the rest of the money together,” says MSA president Chris Bacon.

The project is well on its way, thanks to unprecedented cooperation and enthusiasm on behalf of skaters, city Parks and Recreation officials, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and private businesses. Add to that a small army of organized and energized volunteers, high-profile grants and donations from celebrities and unique fund-raising efforts, and you have a recipe for success.

“[MSA] is one of the best groups I’ve ever worked with on any project in 20 years in being in the park and rec field,” said Donna Gaukler, director of Parks and Recreation.

Earlier this month the Tony Hawk Foundation donated $15,000 to the project, the second-highest grant the skateboarding legend’s charitable group awarded in its last round of grants.

Miki Vukovich, executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, said one of the reasons the foundation gave such a large sum to the Missoula skatepark project is the professionalism exhibited by MSA, the level of community involvement and the ambitious design of the park.

“[MSA has] accomplished a lot on their own,” Vukovich. “A lot of times, people who are just starting come to us and we help them get through some of the hurdles, but our grant process is something that comes in a little bit further down the road. These guys are way down the road. Certainly at this point the park is imminent. It’s just a matter of time before it’s built.”

According to Gaukler, her department began to realize the need for the park more than five years ago when a group of skaters, including MSA president Chris Bacon, built ramps beneath the Higgins Ave. bridge. When skaters were told they weren’t allowed to skate there, the ramps were removed and Gaukler approached Bacon about the possibility of a free public skatepark.

The Missoula Skatepark Association was formed and the group began working with city officials to come up with a plan and design for the park.

Bacon and his band of skaters formed a fund-raising committee in 2003, and by the end of the year the project had $150,000 in the bank, thanks to a $100,000 commitment from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and a $50,000 donation from the rock band Pearl Jam, whose bassist Jeff Ament lives in Missoula.

Opportunities to attract further MSA support through fund raising seem to be inexhaustible. Volunteers collect aluminum cans to redeem for cash, and a mini ramp at Edge of the World (formerly Board of Missoula) continues to draw skaters and donations. Other fund-raising tactics include skateboarding and snowboarding video premiers at Crystal Theatre (which have garnered as much as $1,000) and T-shirt sales. In 2004, MSA partnered with the Big Sky Brewing Company as a beneficiary, along with the Clark Fork’s Brennan’s Wave project, of a portion of beer and ticket sales for the brewery’s summer concert series.

This summer, the group is the only beneficiary of the five-show concert series at the Big Sky Amphitheater. According to Big Sky founder and president Neal Leathers, MSA could net an estimated $20,000 to $40,000 over the course of the summer.

“The keys to making [the concert series] work out here is really having groups that can bring in large numbers of volunteers,” says Leathers.

Additionally, American Expedition Vehicles of Missoula has put up a $72,000 Jeep Wrangler with a 570 HEMI engine to be raffled off for the skatepark. MSA plans to sell 2,000 tickets at $100 a piece. If all the tickets are sold, the raffle will net the group another $128,000. Coupled with the $15,000 grant from the Hawk Foundation and an additional $75,000 from MRA, 2005 is shaping up to be a banner year for the skatepark.

“I’m really impressed with their professionalism, commitment and creative ideas for fund raising,” says Tod Gass, project coordinator for MRA. “These guys are putting in a lot of volunteer hours.”

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