Volume 17 • Issue 31 | Dec. 24 - 30, 2004

City tries to keep Brooklyn Bridge skateboard space

< Skateboarders earlier this year in an area called the Brooklyn Bridge Banks. The park closed in December for renovations. Skateboard leaders objected to the original redesign but say the Parks Dept. now appears willing to design some of the park for skateboarders, while retaining about 70 percent of the space they use. Downtown Express photo by Allen Ying

By Ronda Kaysen

The first time longtime skateboarder Steve Rodriguez heard about the city’s plans to renovate the space beneath the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge that has been used as a self-made skate park since the 1970s was when a fence went up around it the first week of December, effectively shutting the area down.

“I wish they would have asked the skateboarders who are the biggest presence there,” said Rodriguez, the 32-year-old owner of 5boro Skateboards, a skateboard company in Greenwich Village, and an advocate for the skateboarding community. “I wish when they do this stuff they’d involve the community.”

Last spring, the Parks Dept. moved forward with Lower Manhattan Development Corporation-funded plans to revamp the red brick plaza bordered by Frankfort St. to the south, Pearl St. to the east, Park Row to the west and Police Plaza on the north. The plans include removing dead trees, repairing the pavement, adding greenery, two seating areas, synthetic turf where visitors can practice tai chi, Ping Pong tables, tetherball, volleyball and basketball courts. The site is about 120,000 square feet and intersected by Rose St. Overhead are approach ramps and the west arches of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The skateboarders were mystified by the changes to an area with near perfect skateboarding terrain known since the 1970s as the Brooklyn Bridge Banks. “[The changes are] designed by 50-year-olds who want tetherball courts,” said Rodriguez. “Who on earth plays tetherball?” The area with the most fame and history for skateboarders, the small banks near Police Plaza, has already been destroyed, he said.

Soon after the area closed, Rodriguez organized a meeting with the Parks Dept. to influence the design process. The city, he said, was more receptive than he anticipated at the Wednesday meeting. “The meeting today went so great that I don’t even believe it,” he said. Nearly 70 percent of the skateboarding area will be salvaged, primarily along the eastern side.

The proposed designs, said Rodriguez, will accommodate skateboarders with facilities created specifically for them and provide a distinct separation between the skateboarding community and other Brooklyn Bridge Park visitors. “If they do what they say they will do, it will be better [than what it was before,]” he said.

Paul Goldstein, district manager for Community Board 1, which approved the Parks Dept.’s renovation plans last March, was optimistic a suitable compromise will be worked out. “A few small modifications are being made to accommodate the needs of the skateboarders so they can continue to utilize that space,” he said. “We’re going to make it nice for them.” The modifications will not derail any of the other plans for the park, he said.

Goldstein lives in nearby Southbridge Towers, an apartment complex that has run into problems with skateboarders in the past who use the complex’s plaza as a skate park. In recent years, however, Goldstein has not noticed any problems between the skateboard community and the residents. “There are people at Southbridge who have concerns about skateboarders,” he said. “But I don’t really see skateboarders in Southbridge at all.”

Despite early signs of a happy ending, Rodriguez is apprehensive. “I’m just worried that they’re not going to follow through,” he said. “I’ve seen so many projects get so messed up.”

Other Parks Dept.-designed skate parks have been disappointing to some skateboarders, including the skate park in the Hudson River Park, which Rodriguez helped design and he now calls “a waste.” The early plans, he said, looked nothing like the final design, which includes a large “bowl,” a feature that only accommodates one skateboarder at a time. About another park he also helped design, Owls Head Skate Park in Bay Ridge, Rodriguez said: “They didn’t use any of the input we gave them. They changed the plans, built the park and said it was a success.”

An ideal venue for skateboarders, said Rodriguez, is a space like Union Square Park, with wide steps, handrails and flat surfaces. “Kids want to skate benches, handrails. They see skateboarding in the natural environment of the city and want to do that,” he said. A plaza-style design accommodates beginners as well as expert skateboarders and is far less expensive to build, added Rodriguez.

The Parks Dept. has not finalized any changes yet and is considering various options, said Ashe Reardon, a spokesperson for the department. “We’re in the early stages, in terms of what we’d build,” he said. “We’re looking at the possibility of making the area more amenable to skateboarders.”

Rodriguez will meet with the Parks Dept. again on Jan. 7th to discuss the changes.


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