Hundreds of skaters, New Orleans officials and curious onlookers came together Saturday to celebrate the opening of the city’s first public skate park, an 18,000-square-foot space under the Interstate 610 overpass in Gentilly.
Located at the intersection of Paris Avenue and Pleasure Street, Parisite Skate Park was the vision of Transitional Spaces, a nonprofit formed by local skateboarders, according to the park’s founders.
The final product is the result of a multiyear collaboration among the nonprofit, the city and the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, which approved preliminary plans for the park in 2013.
“This is an asset to the city,” said Jackson Blalock, a founder of the park and a member of Transitional Spaces, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Before, there was no place to skate. But the energy just hit a critical mass, and skaters started building their own space.”
Designed by the skate park design and construction firm Spohn Ranch, in collaboration with Tulane City Center, the space includes prefabricated concrete ramps, cast-in-place concrete ramps, wood ramps and rails designed to accommodate skateboards, roller skates, rollerblades, inline skates and BMX bikes.
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Rain gardens and seating areas help make the area attractive to nonskaters.
While practicing their moves, munching on sandwiches, drinking energy drinks and listening to alternative music, skaters of all ages said they felt victorious after the city gave them a legal space for their sport.
In the past, they said, they felt ostracized as police and residents kicked them out or shooed them away from the illegal spaces they tried to claim.
One such space was just down the street, between the highway and the train tracks, where skaters had banded together to build a park from scratch. The land was owned by the railroad company, however, and the city razed the unofficial park in 2012, according to organizers.
That forced skaters like 25-year-old Dylan Hidalgo to find other illegal nooks and crannies under the overpass or in sections of downtown New Orleans. Hidalgo, a pizza delivery man and Mid-City resident, said he had long waited for city officials to legitimize an activity that kept him and his friends away from crime and off drugs.
“Honestly, what we were doing was illegal, but we were doing it for the right reasons,” he said. “Now it’s official. And it’s just the beginning.”
Austin Waguespack, a 20-year-old skater who lives in the neighborhood, said the park means the skateboarding community can now grow stronger.
“I love it. I come every day,” he added. “Now we have a place to be.”
During the ceremony, Parisite Skate Park founder Skylar Fein lauded the efforts of his friends and fellow skaters, who he said refused to give up the idea of a place to practice and who worked together to make it legal.
“I’m here to say to you, welcome to Parisite, the first public skate park in the history of New Orleans,” Fein said toward the end of the ceremony as the crowd broke into applause.
Fein complimented the efforts of city officials, adding that at first he felt “a little nervous” when he went to City Hall three years ago to ask for permission to build a legitimate park.
“We didn’t know what kind of people we would meet. Maybe they would be the sort of people who don’t like skateboarders,” Fein said. “It turns out we met a group of people just like us.”
With the backing of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office, preliminary plans were approved the following year, and skaters built a DIY park to code. Additionally, organizers installed at the site a $200,000 “street course” that Red Bull donated to the city. The New Orleans Brees Dream Foundation also stepped in, as did the Tulane School of Architecture’s Tulane City Center.
During the ribbon-cutting, which also was celebrated with the cutting of a giant Reuben sandwich, Landrieu said the new skate park was a great example of how the city is working to better connect communities by collaborating with residents and private partners.
“I talk a lot about the new New Orleans way. And whether it’s redoing the health care system or education system, rebuilding our infrastructure or building new skate parks, the new New Orleans way is partnerships,” he said. “That’s what creates social cohesion, which equals resilience.”
Landrieu lauded the progress of the area, noting that the new park sits near the city’s new Youth Study Center, a new high school and a new playground.
“We’re defining what resilience looks like, and this is a piece of it,” Landrieu added. “It’s about creating a 21st-century city, not building the way it was but building the way it always should have been.”
Parisite Skatepark will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Restrooms are available in the St. Bernard Center at 1500 Lafreniere St. during posted hours.