Skateboarders gathered at their longtime park Wednesday night not to do tricks on the concrete, but to help a new city-hired spraypaint-wielding builder map the “clam shells” and “tombstones” that will flow into a new stat-of-the-art venue.
The brainstorming took place at the city’s popular but fraying skateboard park by Coogan Pavilion in Edgewood Park.
City parks chief Becky Bombero called together veteran skateboards young and old to announce that the city is spending $150,000 in two phases to fix the crumbling current park and build a new one next to it on mitigated wetlands leading to the West River, promising to make the spot an even bigger regional draw than it now is.
She also introduced the the builder the city has hired to carry out the plan: Dave Peterson of Bridgeport-based Rampage Skate Shop. He beat out some larger companies in a competitive-bidding process because of his local experience and connections to New Haven skaters.
That connection was display Wednesday night’s gathering a follow-up to a January community meeting where skateboarders urged Bombero not to demolish their beloved park, to which an estimated 150 skateboarders and stunt-riders flock each week. The skateboarders ponied up not just suggestions but offers of volunteer work to help make the plan a reality.
The new plan will “bring life to the existing park that people love, and gives new ramps, obstacles, new opportunities for skaters,” said Tom Albin, a longtime visitor.
As the attendees rambled the site and proposed features, skateboarder Albin recalled that he and his good friend Jordan Syrop have been coming to the skate park since they began Co-Op High School, from which they graduated in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
“We’d take the B1 [bus] down here, hang out until it’s dark. It’s still the most important thing in my life,” said Albin, now in his early 20s and working as a mechanic repairing small motors in Branford.
“I think about going skating all day,” he added.
At this point, the only hard decision made about the new park is that concrete, not the current asphalt, will form the base, because it is less more abrasive when skaters take spills.
The new park will run approximately the same length and extend south towards the river to approximately the line of the driveway and incorporate some of the trees on the site.
Peterson took spray paint to delineate rails and ledges — narrow structures onto which skate boarders can leap —that might serve as a kind of transition from the old park to the proposed park. Skateboarders offered suggestions, which Peterson duly sketched on a clipboard with the plan to incorporate them into a formal plan in coming weeks.
Local regular Jake Shaker, a skateboarder from his youth and now a researcher at the Yale School of Public Health, described the current park as a bit of a “bummer.” It has no real flow, just objects to negotiate, which takes a lot of pushing with the foot, he said. Skaters dream of endless flow.
As he put it: “The dream [of the skateboarder] is no matter where you’re coming from, you have something else, another obstacle”— a ramp, a “tombstone,” a “clam shell” —“to give you momentum to continue.”
A skater himself, Peterson not only took notes; he spoke the language. He suggested three-foot stairs to leap at the western end of the new facility and others that grow in height to about six-foot towards the east, in the corner, a jump that he said was “getting gnarly.”
When the group came to a large tree at the eastern end of the site, Peterson called out to landscape architect David Moser of the City Plan Department: “Can we bank the corner and flow around the tree. And have something really gnarly?” Moser nodded OK.
“Yes, I think this should all be transition, and snake around the tree,” added Brian Clark, another longtime user of the park.
Justin Kearney, a West Havener, also praised the idea of the snaking around the tree, but for a different reason. He’s not a skateboarder but a rider of a BMX bike; Edgewood’s is one of the parks that allow BMX riders and skateboarders to mix. He said if he comes off the turn at the corner of the park that Clark is proposing, without the snake or some transitional flow, “you’ll kill everybody.”
Kearney proposed a “volcano” around the base of the tree so when he comes zooming down on his bike from the corner in the east where the new park and the old meet, he won’t land in the middle of the skate boarders.
Kearney said he like the general drift of the suggestions, which was to add more rails, ledges, more “street stuff,” like the benches at the Beinecke Plaza from which skateboarders are frequently shooed away.
“This will incorporate a whole crew of people who like obstacles, people want to do the work of the trick—the ledge or rail is work—as opposed to launching [more easily] from a ramp,” he said, or from the many “quarter pipes,” the smooth, curved structures that are a main feature of the old skate park.
An open question in his mind and that of others is whether two separate parks will be created—one for performers of older tricks and the new one for the new, more demanding technical style. Or whether Peterson, with the help of the very involved skateboarder “stakeholders,” will succeed in creating a fabulous new long run, a flow that will incorporate both parks as one.
That will be clearer at the next meeting when Peterson unveils the rendering.
Once Peterson and the skateboard crew come up with detailed features, Moser will prepare documents for the next phase: submission of the site plan and coastal site plan for approval by the City Plan Commission.
Because the city is relinquishing the adjacent tract, which is a wetlands, mitigating measures will have to be offered to replace it with a more substantial mitigated wetland parcel than exists to the south closer to the West River.
Plans for that mitigation are inchoate now, and depend on the ultimate design of the new facility. Moser proposed saving money by asking the skaters to volunteer to rip out the invasive Japanese knot-berry at the margin of the adjoining grass. Then plantings more enduring and not invasive can be put in as they run up to the berm of the river.
Almost everybody in the crowd signaled they’d be delighted to do that work, which would save money for more fun stuff. “In my 18 years [in City Plan], this is the best group I’ve worked with,” Moser said, applauding the deep interest and easygoing enthusiasm of the skateboarders.
The budget for the first phase is $70,000, which should be enough to open the park, including $2,500 for repairs of the old, adjacent park, Bombero said. That money was approved in last year’s capital budget; an additional $80,000 will be required to complete the work, but that funding is still subject to upcoming budget negotiations, said Bombero.
She said the park could be open as early as March and, in the worst case scenario, in the summer.