Charm City’s skaters have some new turf to call their own.
The Skatepark of Baltimore announced this morning that the 11,000-square-foot concrete street plaza within Hampden’s Roosevelt Park is officially open. Construction crews had been working on the plaza, known formally as Phase II, since the fall.
The new section sits adjacent to the preexisting bowl area on the far side of the fenced-in park at 1201 W. 36th Street. Once a flat, open space that housed homemade, DIY creations for skaters not seeking to drop into the bowl, it’s now been redesigned as a top-notch concrete plaza, complete with stairs and a small handrail, bumps, ledges and other features that provide for smooth lines for skateboarders.
Some may have noticed people were already skating the new terrain over the past several weeks before it was formally declared open. “Basically, as soon as the concrete was dry, the kids were just dying to get in there to skate,” said Stephanie Murdock, board president for the Skatepark of Baltimore.
The park was bustling with activity on Friday activity, skateboarders and BMX riders of all ages (along with a few stray scooter enthusiasts) cruising the new street course.
Murdock’s group, which celebrated its 10th anniversary as a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit in November, has worked with the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks for years to provide a safe home for the city’s skaters. After about a decade of fundraising, drawing up blueprints and construction, the first phase of the skatepark opened in 2014.
That area consists mainly of deep bowls, designed for more experienced skaters, as well as ledges on the sides. To build it, the Skatepark of Baltimore secured donations from the Tony Hawk Foundation, the Abell Foundation and private donors and received matched funds from Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, all of which came out to around $210,000. It’s proven to be a hit, drawing as many as 100 young skaters a day, by the nonprofit’s estimates.
This second phase for the park was even more ambitious, funding-wise. The City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland and private donors contributed $465,000 in total. With the money in place, the Skatepark of Baltimore contracted with North Carolina-based Artisan Skateparks to design, resurface and construct the street plaza.
Murdock said Artisan Skateparks was the perfect choice for a contractor, given that they designed Phase I and that their staff are all skaters themselves.
“The were really great about working with the kids and the community, making sure the process went smoothly,” she said.
Gary Smith, owner of Vú Skate Shop a block away on Falls Road, said the job by Artisan was “incredible,” but that the new section of the park was a necessary additio. “When they built it the bowl, it was awesome, but 90 percent of people aren’t bowl skaters. You walk out your front door and you skate street,” he said. “That’s why it was necessary — to have this smooth ground so you don’t fall and rip your hands open.”
To give an idea of the amount of work put into Phase II, the Skatepark of Baltimore this morning shared a drone-shot video that shows the progression of the effort over several months:
Murdock has been working to create a safe space for Baltimore’s skateboarders for 12 years. In 2010, she received a fellowship from the Open Society Institute-Baltimore to work full-time with young people and bring them into the development process for the skatepark.
“I’m a skateboarder, so maybe selfishly I wanted a skatepark in my home town,” she said. “Traveling when you’re young to all these different parks and spots throughout the United States and seeing what other cities had, it made me wonder why we didn’t have something like that in Baltimore.”
Maryland has a unique history with skateboarding. In fact, the state houses two of the oldest skateparks in the country in Ocean Bowl in Ocean City and Sandy Hills Skate Park in Lansdowne. Baltimore also served as the first stop on the Mountain Dew Action Sports Tour in 2007 and 2008, bringing tens of thousands of people to watch at M&T Bank Stadium during both years.
Skaters are common in many parts of the city. However, street skateboarding commonly results in fines or even arrests, if it leads to destruction of public property.
“People have been skating in Baltimore for probably 20, 40 years, but having a safe, sanctioned place to do it has been our struggle and really our mission,” she said.
The nonprofit has further plans for the Hampden skatepark with Phase III, which will provide lighting and shade protection from the beating summer sun for skaters. Murdock said that may not be done until next year or possibly 2018. The Johns Hopkins Neighborhood Fund has provided $15,000 for the effort, and the Skatepark of Baltimore has developed plans for the new amenities with landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel Associates. The park will also be getting restrooms as part of the Department of Recreation and Parks’ ongoing capital improvement effort.
While the street plaza is complete and very much in use, the skatepark will be holding its ceremonial grand opening in May 2017.
Murdock predicts the expanded park will make Hampden even more of a destination for skaters who are considering a move to the neighborhood . “I’ve already had people tell me that they moved to Hampden for this park,” she said. “These are the kinds of amenities that make people want to move to a neighborhood.”