Family, friends want to memorialize Mercurio with skatepark
ROME — Stone Mercurio skated all over Rome, but what he didn’t have in the city he loved was a “real skatepark.” Though the city has had a small park at Pinti Field for years, Mercurio’s family and friends want to memorialize him with a million-dollar park along Harbor Way near the Mill Street bridge on the city’s east side.
It would, according to a 51-page proposal, provide “a safe, accessible, and wholesome environment for people to socialize, exercise, invent, and explore.” It would also serve as destination for people of all ages and transform a former industrial area.
After Mercurio died April 18, friends and family immersed themselves in a project to symbolize him and his love for the city. A GoFundMe page was created and had raised $60,163 as of Thursday. The total project cost will likely be around $1.1 million, but the donations mean money for design and engineer. It also represents leverage for other funding sources. There is a donor-advised structure for funds administered by the Rome Community Foundation.
Where the park might go
The proposed site is on half of a 2.2-acre vacant, city-owned site next to the city’s navigation center between Harbor Way and the Erie Canal, in the shadow of the water tower. There’s already parking, restrooms, showers, drinking fountaions and vending machines, picnic tables, shade and shelter nearby.
The park itself is proposed to be 12,000-15,000 square feet, which would fit within almost 48,000 square feet of vacant space. Additional parking would also occupy the area. There’s minimal maintenance for such a concrete park and skating has a fairly small cost for participants, the proposal notes.
“It’s kind of a perfect spot,” said Stone’s father, Christian. It’s walkable from several nearby neighborhoods with children. The area, which includes Bellamy Harbor Park, has a few special events but this would be daily, active outdoor use.
Stone Mercurio’s friends who skateboarded with him have assembled to help with the project. Three of them — Brandon Gannon, Mikey Futia and Hayden McMonagle — spoke about their part.
“We’re involved in this because Stone was our best friend. He always wanted to skate a bowl in Rome,” said Gannon, age 19. “Our role in this is to get as many skaters involved in the community,” gathering their input. They are also making a short film featuring local people in support of the project to be shown to as part of the fund raising effort to corporate donors, especially in the skateboarding industry.
“One of the biggest reasons to have a skate park in Rome is because Stone loved Rome a lot and wanted good things to come to Rome,” said McMonagle, age 20. The group had to drive around to find places outside of Rome to skate, otherwise they skated the streets of the city. “Our role is to rally everybody together for once and really get it going,” get the information out to people in the industry.
Futia, age 20, said that in the journeys to find spots to skate, “we got to love Rome because of that.” This project will provide “a place where all the skaters are welcomed and you’ll see the same faces over and over.” It’s a central location in a place where young people need opportunities, he hoted. He said the group is planning to create information cards to pass out locally about Stone’s story and the park concept.
Gannon noted that while Rome has a skate park, it is “pretty old and in rough condition.” It also works better for BMX bikes more so than skateboards, he noted. Where that park is small and simple, the Mercurio park will be bigger and more elaborate. The team has looked at many parks elsewhere in the state and tried to incorporate aspects into the initial design that reflected Stone’s style. “As for the spot, it’s perfect,” Gannon said. Stone loved nature so having it near the water fits well too, he added.
“He liked to flow. Same as how he lived his life,” McMonagle said of the park’s aesthetic. “We will put in what Stone would have wanted in the park.” He continued, “We need to bring a community to Rome. Rome needs something like this, to bring people in and offer community to kids who might be making bad decisions. To give them something to do.”
Gannon concluded: “This is a project that unfortunately for the circumstances — our friend Stone passing — it will outlast our lives and be there forever and bring people into the community.”
Cameron Stewart, the president-elect of the Rome Rotary Club, is 32 and picked up skateboarding in 2019. A longtime snowboarder, he grew up in New Jersey around skateboarding but didn’t start himself until he was in Rome and wanted something for the warmer weather after the snowboarding season ended.
Stewart met Stone’s grandfather, Steve Mercurio, at the rotary club. After a suicide in his family two years ago, Stewart said, “I knew exactly what the Mercurio family is going through.” He added that he wants to see the park become a reality because “I know how important that can be for the Mercurio family, who might be having a bad day, might be thinking of Stone, and they can go to the skate park and feel better. I don’t know how this can be a negative.”
He also joined the effort to get the new skate park because he wanted to show Rome’s wide array of skaters; it’s not just teenagers and not people causing problems. “It’s not just kids who are going to use the skate park,” said Stewart, who is in real estate.
Stewart continued, “I’m looking to stay in Rome for a plethora of reasons.” A good reason would be the skate park, “and it could influence other people’s decisions down the road.” The park at Pinti Field, he said, is not sufficient but it was a start and it is an asset but it’s small. “We have to say, ‘Thanks for that but it’s time to move on.’”
Lifelong Roman Zac Andrews, who at 31 has been skating for 24 years, is also involved in the group planning the park. His brother Matthew, the city’s deputy director of community and economic development, worked with Christian Mercurio at City Hall. When he was asked to join the project, he said his response was: “Anything I can do to help in any way.” He added, “I was always advocating for a better skate park in Rome all my life.” For this park specifically, “I’m willing to do anything and everything for this. It really needs to be done well and it needs to memorialize not only his son but mental health in general.” As a long-time skater he has been to many parks and knows how they’re laid out so he can help with practical input.
In a larger sense, “I want to have something that can bring the community together in a nice place, in a nice area,” a purpose-built site for skating instead of at other private and public spaces where they might not be welcome. “We need more community within our community. And it seems like that’s being lost today. So for this park to happen and to bring a community back together is huge.”
The plan calls for meetings with the city and state Department of Conservation this spring then civic engagement and design concepts in the summer. The hope is to meet in June with The Skatepark Project, formerly the Tony Hawk Foundation, as one of the possible funding sources.
The city’s part in the plan
It already has the initial support of the city’s Common Council, which unanimously approved a motion of support at Wednesday’s meeting. Sixth Ward Councilor Riccardo D. Dursi Jr., a teacher in Rome, has helped with what the project needs from the city. “My kids growing up with Chris’ kids got me to know Stone and (his sister) Carmella through soccer. Chris asked me to do something and it’s a no-brainer because it’s the right thing to do.”
Dursi said he saw the pain at Rome Free Academy when students grieved for Mercurio, a member of the Class of 2022. “RFA is a community,” Dursi said. “Seeing the kids have to learn life the hard way and learn the struggles, it was just really tough. And Rome is a small enough community that we have to take care of each other.” Now he’s helping “to make something positive out of something so tragic.”
Dursi noted that Christian Mercurio “has gotten so much done for the community so someone had to step forward and do something for Chris and the Mercurio family.” He added, “The whole council was fully supportive of it. The administration has been totally on board.” For his part, “It’s why I do the job, to help the community.”
Because the land is already city-owned, that should make the approval process simpler, Dursi said. The city’s law office is reviewing the logistics.
This fall the design would be finalized, the cost determined and grant applications completed. The winter would be the time for permits, fundraising and site preparation. Then in the spring next year, while fundraising continues, there will be construction bidding. If all goes according to plan, there could be a ground breaking as soon as April 2024 and completion by August. “It’s aggressive and I know it sounds cliche but it’s how Stone would do it,” Christian Mercurio said.
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