New downtown skateboard park brings mixed reactions from local skaters

Artistic skateboards showcased at Wilson Yards Skate Shop in Uptown, Chicago.
Artistic skateboards showcased at Wilson Yards Skate Shop in Uptown, Chicago.

By Mariel Turner

A new skate park under construction in Grant Park will be open this month, causing local skateboarders to be both excited and apprehensive.

Advocates and supporters have been lobbying for the $2.65 million project since 2006. Bob O’Neil, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, said the new park could save the city thousands of dollars in damages to downtown infrastructure.

“I noticed the plazas in Grant Park and downtown Chicago were getting destroyed,” said O’Neil. “The Stock Exchange Plaza [and] railings in Grant Park were not made to be skated on. There was hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.”

The nearly completed Grant Park Skate Park. The park is expected to open at the end of this month. Courtesy of Grant Park Conservancy
The nearly completed Grant Park Skate Park. The park is expected to open at the end of this month. Courtesy of Grant Park Conservancy

The city approved an ordinance in June, following a proposal from the mayor’s office, to provide $2.5 million in TIF funds. The remaining cost will be paid for by the Chicago Park District and outside grants from the Tony Hawk Foundation and Lollapalooza.

Ricky Jay, a 20-year-old Uptown skateboarder is happy about having somewhere to skate legally downtown, calling the project “so dope”. Some local skaters are so excited for the new park that they have broken into the nearly finished, three-acre space to skateboard at night. While happy about their enthusiasm, O’Neil urges skateboarders to wait until the project is complete.

“They’re dying to get in there,” said O’Neil. “It shows we did something right, that it’s not even open and they’re illegally sneaking in there. It’s not good because the concrete isn’t secure, but it’s also a testament to how badly they want to use it. So it’s going to be incredibly successful.”

Security at the construction site will be increased until the November opening, according to Park District officials.

O’Neil said one reason skateboarders are so eager for the completed project is that they were heavily involved in its design. Officials sought their input in the beginning stages of the park’s development.

“We have them coming in from all over Chicago, other neighborhoods in the city and some of them live downtown,” said O’Neil. “There are over 60,000 college students living near Grant Park alone. We worked with the skateboarders to design this park. They met with the Park District, the designers, the architect. It is something they could use to keep them off of wrecking other property; something world class.”

Not everybody is happy about the new park, however. Charlie Bee, an employee at Wilson Yards Skate Shop, said the new venue could be problematic for street skaters.

“I think it’s cool for the young skateboarders and anyone coming [from] out of town for sure,” said Bee. “But I’m not really for it for regular street skateboarding. The entire culture can’t just be put into one area; it’s more like a cage.”

Bee, who has been skating for 20 years, said the new park would stop people who use skateboarding to get around the city.

“College students or kids working, getting off the train, going from point A to point B. Now you’re going to have people telling them to go to the skate park. It’s going to be super hard to skateboard downtown. It’s good for Chicago, but it sucks for Chicago skateboarders.”