El Paso, Texas

El Paso, TX currently has 10 public skateparks owned and operated by the City Parks and Recreation Department.  Beyond the city limits, there are 6 public skateparks in El Paso County and soon to be 3 in neighboring Dona Ana County (New Mexico.)  Local skaters have been involved to varying degrees in the design, build, purchase and upkeep of these facilities. Photos/locations of all can be accessed online at www.elpasoskatepark.org.

Prior to the opening of a large concrete skatepark at Carolina Park, Eastside City Representative Dan Power championed El Paso’s first city-owned skatepark in 2002, proudly proclaiming “we can build a bunch of these for the cost of one concrete skatepark!”   A 9,500 square foot concrete slab with metal ramps replaced an underused, undersized soccer field at a cost of $95,000.  A portion of the skatepark funding came from the city’s mandatory Parkland Dedication Ordinance that requires developers to provide one acre of park land per 200 residential units, or pay a fee.  Jobe Concrete Products, Foster Schwartz Development Corp. and Carefree Homes opted to pay money in lieu of land.  The concrete slab was later increased by 4,643 square feet to accommodate more ramps and a shade feature.

Five months later in February 2003, El Paso skaters reveled in the opening of a 23,000 square foot concrete park adjacent to the Carolina Recreation Center.  The cash poor city looked to alternate monies via Community Block Grant Development (CDBG) federal funding aimed at improving socio-economically depressed neighborhoods through affordable housing, street and park repairs.  CDGB funding was acquired in 2001 only after the strong, neighborhood- led advocacy efforts of Richard Alvarado, a youth leader Santa Lucia Church.  The original skatepark budget of $508,700 increased significantly to $625,000 after soil testing revealed clay at the proposed site – the clay had to be removed and replaced by engineered fill to do the earthwork.   Site Design Group created the design and a local general contractor, Dantex, managed construction.  With oversight from a skate-saavy civil engineer, non-skating builders crafted a well-built facility with only a few “wavy” or “kinked” walls.  Local skaters gave design input on the park to include a variety of terrain to accommodate all levels and styles of skateboarding.  The park includes: a 9-foot vert bowl, 7-foot step up bowl and  a flow bowl street course including half pyramids, ledges, flat rails, euro gap, banks.  Numerous touring professional skateboarders have visited including Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Bob Burnquist, Mike Vallely and Zero’s Jaime Thomas.  On any given night this popular regional-size skatepark can easily have 50-100 participants – many driving across town to the Lower Valley neighborhood.

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During a 7-month period from October 2003 to April 2004, the City would purchase 5 more Skatewave modular parks and place the metal ramps on existing, underused tennis/basketball courts or pre-existing slabs.  A 6th Skatewave park was added in February 2006 during the renovation of Eastwood Park.  All of these modular ramps have experienced a variety of safety/maintenance issues, in particular, the displacement of steel kick plates that connect the ramp to the slab.  Warranty service attempts by the El Paso Skatepark Association and the Parks Department, were partiallly addressed and then ignored by the manufacturer.  Other ramp obstacles have disappeared due to theft.

All El Paso County-owned skateparks are Rhino ramps with the exception of Fabens, TX which features True Ride ramps.  The County participated in a “pool purchase” program to buy each skatepark for about $45,000.  Dona Ana County features a Spohn Ranch modular ramp set up in rural Chaparral and a poorly built $250,000 concrete park in the City of Las Cruces about 45 minutes from El Paso.

El Paso’s only pre-cast concrete park opened at Ysleta Park in March of 2007. Some Tony Hawk Grant funding was applied to purchase SOLO modular equipment as part of total park improvement project.  Late efforts by skaters advocating for a poured-in-place concrete park instead were dismissed by parks officials – this prompted organization of the nonprofit 501c3 El Paso Skatepark Association in May 2007 as it was apparent more skater input was needed on how tax money was being spent on public skateparks.

The El Paso Skatepark Association quickly gained credibility with city leaders and changed conceptions of what a public skatepark should be. Funded by a 2000 Quality of Life bond, the Westside Community Skatepark originally went to bid as a flat concrete slab to feature more SOLO ramp equipment.  However, then-Parks Director Barry Russell decided to listen and act on skaters’ desires for another concrete park.  Working with a meager $180,000 budget, architects took skater input and worked out a 12,000 square foot design featuring a bowl and street course.  Rhode Island-based Breaking Ground Skateparks built the park that opened in July 2009.  The parks department re-appropriated money to pay the inflated final tab of $457,000 that included extensive mountainside drainage and landscaping, but no lights!

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El Paso’s eleventh public skatepark will be a 12,000 square foot concrete park concrete park at Mountain View Park in the central/northeast area close to the rapidly growing Fort Bliss Army base.  The park will be funded for $1 million by a Community Development Block Grant ($100k for design/$900k for build) with construction money available in September 2012.  In October 2010, the first public design input meeting was held with about 50 skaters meeting with Site Design Group’s Brian Moore.

Locals are also looking forward to the opening of a 36,000 square foot Rob Dyrdek-designed DC skate plaza in neighboring Sunland Park, New Mexico.  The $900,000 facility was funded by state grants and is expected to be open the public in January 2011.

Article by Paul Zimmerman