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baltimoresun.com

Organizer of skateboard park rolling toward city funding deadline

$15,000 short in matching funds with less than two weeks to go

By Larry Perl, lperl@patuxent.com

10:00 PM EDT, May 11, 2012

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Baltimore City's $75,000 grant offer to the Skatepark of Baltimore still stands — but not for much longer.

It's a matching grant with an expiration deadline of May 31, which means that supporters of a planned skateboarding park in Hampden have less than two weeks to raise $75,000 of their own money.

That's why Stephanie Murdock, president of the nonprofit Skatepark of Baltimore, stood before the Hampden Village Merchants Association on May 9, proverbial hat in hand, asking for a donation of $1,000.

She got all that — and a lot more that she didn't expect.

Murdock was $17,000 short of her fundraising goal when she walked into the monthly merchants meeting at the Hampden Family Center.

But by the time the meeting ended, Murdock had raised at least $2,200 more.

The merchants association voted unanimously to give her a $1,000 donation. Representatives of Visit Baltimore, the city's quasi-public marketing and tourism, happened to be attending the merchants' meeting — and they too pledged $1,000 for the skateboarding park.

Several merchants on The Avenue offered to chip in money as well, including Charlotte Murray, owner of antique shop Charlotte Elliott; Denise Whiting, owner of Cafe Hon; and Susannah Siger, owner of Ma Petite Shoe.

"I went in asking for a grand and I ended up leaving with about $2,200 committed," Murdock said.

Before she got her pledges from merchants and Visit Baltimore, Murdock said she had about $58,000 in matching funds, including a $25,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation and $5,000 from the Hampden Community Council.

She said she wasn't sure how firm the city Department of Recreation and Parks deadline is for matching its $75,000 grant, but doesn't want to take any chances or renegotiate with the department, especially in light of Gregory Bayor's announcement in March that he was stepping down as director of Recreation and Parks. Bill Vondracek is now acting director.

The matching grant, totaling $150,000, would be enough to break ground on the first phase of the project, construction of a 3,600-square-foot concrete bowl in Roosevelt Park, Murdock said.

Ultimately, she hopes to also build a $350,000 "street course" with a plaza next to the skateboarding bowl, she said.

Murdock, 29, who calls herself "the skateboard lady," is a former advocate for the disabled in Washington. She has spent the past seven years trying to raise money for a free, public skateboarding park on behalf of an estimated 7,000 skateboarding diehards and 30,000 casual fans. She thinks it would serve 1 million skateboarders over 20 years.

"This is something I think will bring a lot of visitors and tourism," she told the merchants. "It would attract attention throughout the United States."

In 2010, she won an 18-month, $50,000 fellowship from the Open Society Institute of Baltimore, a philanthropic organization, to get the skatepark built.

Last year, she sold "Girls of Skateboarding" calendars for $20 each to raise money.

Besides the pledged matching city grant, she has office space, a computer, Internet access and other amenities provided by the Parks and People Foundation in Wyman Park and Knott Foundation in Hampden. The group also got a $25,000 grant from the Abell Foundation for design and planning. She works out of the Knott Foundation's headquarters at 3904 Hickory Ave.

Skatepark of Baltimore is accepting donations on its website, and hopes to break ground for the skatepark later this year.

There's only one such park citywide, an 11,000-square-foot facility in Carroll Park in west Baltimore, Murdock said.

There's also an 11,000-square-foot, asphalt space behind the Roosevelt Recreation Center, with a few ramps and obstacles provided by skateboarders, and a small skating plaza in Curtis Bay, she said.

A skateboarding park would cost little to maintain, requiring only the collection of garbage and the checking of the concrete for cracks, Murdock told the Hampden Community Council last year..

Having a full-sized park is important to skateboarding fans, who are often accused of trespassing when they skate in parking lots or on streets, she said at the time.

During her Open Society Institute fellowship, Murdock also partnered with The Parks and People Foundation to start "Skateboarding for Success," an after-school, weekend and summer program for at-risk middle and high school students in Hampden. Skateboarding for Success offered mentoring, beginner skateboarding lessons, park clean-up efforts and contests..

"We ended up serving about 500 kids and engaging them in 50 different activities," Murdock said. She took a group of students to Annapolis earlier this year for a hearing before the state legislature on a $150,000 state bond bill for the skatepark, proposed by 40th District Del. Shawn Tarrant. The bill was unsuccessful.

Murdock's fellowship ends this month and she plans to look for a job in the nonprofit sector. She said she would probably continue doing the Skateboarding for Success program on a limited basis.

"I don't even want to teach any more kids to skate, because they don't have any place to go," she said.

But she was pressing forward last week, first going to the merchants association meeting May 9 and then to a city hearing May 10 on next year's proposed Recreation and Parks budget, because she wanted to check on the status of the $75,000 matching grant as a line item.

"I want to make sure the money is actually there," she said.

Murdock plans to keep pushing for the complete skatepark that she envisions, and sees it as a relatively inexpensive recreational activity for Baltimore children and youths, at a time when "we can barely keep our rec centers open."

But the skateboarding lady is looking forward to wrapping up her project.

""It's been a long road," she said. "I can't wait for the day when I'm there."