A DECADE AGO, Love Park was the place skateboarders went to ollie, nollie or kickflip.

That irked city leaders, who disdained the damage skateboarders caused and the danger they posed to other park visitors. Tickets and fines followed, as well as a park overhaul to remove the rails and stone edges skaters loved.

But lifelong skater Joshua Nims saw an opportunity.

"The easiest answer was: Let's build something in Center City. If you can't skate in public spaces, why can't we build a park where we can keep the energy of the city and skate legally?" Nims said.

On May 22, Nims' dream will become reality when Paine's Park opens on the banks of the Schuylkill next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

At 2.5 acres and with 75,000 square feet of skate space, Paine's Park will be one of North America's largest public urban skate parks, said Nims, the park's project manager and cofounder. Supporters expect the $4.5 million park will draw national competitions and touring shows.

Beyond skating, the park preserves an acre of green space and offers pedestrian paths, too, said Claire Laver, executive director of the Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund.

The site was an open field, interrupted only by the Schuylkill Trail, before workers broke ground in October. Decades ago, it was used as a dump site for the city's streets department and as a lot where trucks deposited city trash onto river barges for disposal.

"It's beyond my expectations," Nims said. "This skate park gives youth culture a prominence that other cities are going to be hard-pressed to match."

Paine's Park is the "marquee project" of a skate park master plan the fund unveiled in 2011. That plan calls for the creation of free skate spaces in existing parks and playgrounds around the city.

Skate spaces under construction or planned include: Pop's Playground in East Kensington; Whitehall park in Frankford; McCreesh Playground in Southwest Philadelphia; Granahan Playground in West Philadelphia; Miles Mack Playground in Mantua; and the Grays Ferry Crescent in Southwest Philly.

"It's really important to meet people where they are," Laver said.

Laver estimates there are about 50,000 skateboarders in Philadelphia. "We have about 15,000 skaters to one skate park, compared to 211 basketballers per court in the city," she added.

"There are a lot of places that have become these accidental skate parks, like Love Park, but no one has really done what we've done in terms of purposely designing a public place for skaters," Laver said. "This is a social experiment, and we think it's going to be successful."

Blog: phillyconfidential.com