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Upward Intuition is competing for a $100K community grant for Blake Doyle Community Park in downtown Pensacola

A group of Pensacolians proposing to build a community skate park in downtown Pensacola is hoping to win a $100,000 grant that would fund the first phase of their project that seeks to provide a positive, safe place for area youth.

The group, Upward Intuition, is competing for a $100,000 grant from a new USA Today Network program called A Community Thrives. Individuals nationwide were invited to submit examples accompanied by a video of inspiring programs in their communities that could benefit from additional funding.

The planned Blake Doyle Community Park is the brainchild of Pensacola real estate agent Jon Shell. Shell said he started skateboarding when he was 10, but when a local skatepark closed a few years later, there weren’t many places left to skate in Pensacola. Like skateboarders in many communities, Shell and his friends tried to use the stairs, handrails and ledges of downtown Pensacola, but after being chased off by police and business owners, he hung up his skateboard.

“I know if we’d had a positive, safe place to practice what we loved, that I would have stuck with it,” Shell said. “And it really would have kept me out of a lot of trouble.”

Once built, the skate park would occupy a full city block — bounded by Jackson, Hayne, La Rua, and Tarragona streets – within Hollice T. Williams Park, a largely undeveloped greenway that stretches 18 blocks underneath the elevated Interstate 110. In addition to the skate park, the project would incorporate the community garden that’s already onsite and add walking paths, benches, exercises stations, and other amenities.

Vote now! Help Upward Intuition win $100,000

A conceptual rendering of the Blake Doyle Community Park. (Upward Intuition/Special to The Pulse)

An idea born out of tragedy

In 2009, Shell moved to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida, where he discovered that city’s numerous public skateparks and picked up skateboarding again. As he watched downtown Pensacola’s growth from afar, Shell wondered why a similar public park couldn’t be created in Pensacola. The idea stuck with him, and in 2015, by then back in Pensacola, Shell wrote a blog post outlining his big idea.

When that idea began to pick up some steam, Shell formed Upward Intuition, a non-profit whose mission is to inspire the next generation to affect positive change in Pensacola. Under the Upward Intuition banner, Shell put together a skate team of area kids and began rallying support around his skate park vision.

Around the same time, Shell’s friend Blake Doyle, with whom Shell had skateboarded when he was younger, was struck and killed by a train. Doyle had been wearing headphones while walking alongside railroad tracks and didn’t hear the train coming.

“It was just so devastating because so many people around our community loved this guy,” Shell said. “He had lost his leg in high school, and continued to roll around on a skateboard on a prosthetic leg. Never let him get it down. So we decided we wanted to do this project in memory of Blake and what he stood for.”

A conceptual rendering of the Blake Doyle Community Park. (Upward Intuition/Special to The Pulse)

Before long, Shell’s skate park concept got the attention of Spohn Ranch, a veteran California-based design and construction firm that’s built skate parks across the country. The company reached out to Shell and offered to help with conceptual designs, which they provided pro bono.

Altogether, the project will cost about $1.5 million, a figure which includes the skate park itself along with landscaping, walking paths, and other amenities. Rather than ask taxpayers to foot the bill, Shell plans to raise the money for the park both from private backers as well as public sources such as grants.

In October 2016, the City of Pensacola formally agreed to assume responsibility for operations and maintenance once the park is completed. With approval by the City secured, the group is now able to begin Phase I of the skatepark project: Fundraising for soft costs (design/development, engineering, surveying, geotechnical, and architectural), which they estimate at $100,000.

“We really want this park to be not just for skaters, BMXers, rollerbladers, but we want to have activities and programming options for people of all ages,” Shell said.

A conceptual rendering of the Blake Doyle Community Park. (Upward Intuition/Special to The Pulse)

Jumpstarting the greenway

Shell hopes that development of the skate park could jumpstart progress on the Hollice T. Williams Park Urban Linear Greenway Framework Plan, a master plan for developing the 1.3 mile park with landscaping, walking paths, sports fields, and — you guessed it — a skate park.

A conceptual plan for the Hollice T. Williams Greenway beneath I-110 in Pensacola. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

Its recommendations unfunded, the plan has sat on a shelf since it was completed in 2010. Escambia County and the City of Pensacola hope to complete the remaining development and construction of the greenway with funds awarded from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The plan is currently awaiting approval for funding by the U.S. Department of Treasury. If approved, the park could break ground as early as 2018.

“Years ago, when they came in and put Interstate 110 through the center of our city, it really became the dividing line between our east and west side,” Shell said. “And the area around it has really experienced a lot of blight as a result. Our thought is that if we can successfully develop this city block right here, that may be the catalyst for the redevelopment and regeneration of the rest of this park.”

“I think this project could ultimately have a much bigger impact on our community,” Shell added.

The public can vote on proposals in three categories: Wellness, Education, Arts & Culture. First-place winners in each category will receive $100,000; second-place winners get $50,000. Voting is restricted to one vote per person per day through May 12. You can vote for the Blake Doyle Community Park here.

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