116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Collin Slew and his friends spent their childhood days at Riverside Skate Park, each taking along their skateboard and hanging out until the lights shut off after dark.
A Cedar Rapids native, Slew said the skatepark is “like home.” It’s where he and his friends could reliably go to see the people closest to them, where they’d skate and play basketball, soccer, football and tag.
It’s the place they looked after, taking it upon themselves to rid it of muck after the 2008 flood.
Many of the people drawn to the skatepark come from “rough backgrounds” or have gone through some sort of struggle, Slew said — their parents divorced or they were raised in a single-parent or low-income household. Skateboarding kept them occupied and out of trouble.
“Seeing this place, it’s like a museum,” said Slew, who is now 23 and lives in California as a professional skater. “When I come back, this reminds me of growing up.”
Sitting on the grass facing the National Czech and Slovak Musem and Library, Slew looked back at the skatepark with a subtle smile as the savory aroma of freshly grilled burgers and hot dogs drifted over the facility.
The sounds of grinding wheels and clanking of metal railings reverberated off the concrete surface. On the sidelines, old-school hip-hop and alternative rock blared from a boombox — decorated by a lime green skateboard with two holes carved out for the speakers to poke through.
Dogs lounged in the grass while families in lawn chairs looked on at the contest. Nate Sherwood, owner of the EduSkate shop on 12th Avenue SE, walked along the perimeter, emceeing with a megaphone in hand and occasionally pausing to chat with friends.
The park is made up of a concrete surface with nine steel obstacles and ramps, including a half-pipe, ramps, railings and more. It was built in the 1990s when City Council member Dale Todd was commissioner of parks and recreation under the city’s previous form of government.
The skate park “definitely needs an update,” said Slew, recalling that the park originally lacked even the rails.
There are some obstacles that will help skaters progress, he said, but the park is not up to par with current standards that could rival the facilities in other cities, especially Des Moines’ world-class Lauridsen Skatepark — the largest public skate park in the United States at more than 88,000 square feet.
Soon, the city of Cedar Rapids will relocate the Riverside Park playground and skatepark from the back of the park to closer to C Street SW, to make way for construction of a segment of Cedar Rapids’ $750 million permanent flood control system.
Some local skaters hope to seize the skatepark’s relocation as an opportunity to press the city for a larger long-term investment in skateparks and clearing obstacles. They see potential for improved facilities to draw more regional and national skateboarding events while providing additional recreational amenities for current residents.
Bids for a skatepark contract are expected to be set for late this year.
All of Slew’s friends remain in the Cedar Rapids area, and he said he’s the only one who moved away to California.
“They didn’t think there was a possibility in skateboarding for them to really take it seriously and pursue it,” Slew said. “I just want to give more opportunity for kids that that’s possible, and so it’s not just one of the friends moves on.
“Maybe they can have their whole crew move and be with them.”
The city will hold an open house for input on the orientation of the relocated park and skate park features 5:30 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 29, at Time Check Hall in the City Services Center, 500 15th Ave. SW.
Those interested may find updates and share feedback on the city’s website, at cedar-rapids.org, or subscribe to a monthly newsletter. A sign-up for the newsletter will be available at the open house.
Feedback from park and skate park users and neighbors also may be shared with the parks and recreation director at email@example.com.
Flood control project
From Labor Day through Memorial Day 2023, the city will close the skate park to put in a detention basin and construct a replacement.
Rob Davis, city flood control program manager, said this will store water and meter it out into pumps so the water doesn’t enter into 84-inch pipes all at once. The detention basin at Riverside Park will be added in advance of a pump station planned for next year at the Czech Museum.
This park will be a like-for-like replacement, separate from a grander city vision for a larger skate park potentially in the Time Check area, Davis said. The larger facility could not be built using flood control money.
Davis said it’s unlikely the metal could be salvaged from the existing park so, in alignment with modern standards, parts will be replaced with concrete ones.
Parks and Recreation Director Hashim Taylor said the final design will be completed in the coming months.
HR Green, the city’s flood control contractor, is using California-based Spohn Ranch — a global skate park designer — to advise on the orientation of the park’s features. Initial design feedback from a meeting with some local skaters was shared with Spohn Ranch to guide the company’s work, Taylor said.
The city is exploring options for movable, temporary equipment so skaters won’t be without a skate park until next spring, Taylor said. He hopes staff will have ideas drafted in time to share at a June 29 open house.
City staff also invite the skate community to participate in areas of the park such as artwork on the restrooms, perhaps modeled after the artwork on their skate equipment, Taylor said, to give the feeling that it is their “home skatepark.”
“We definitely want to continue to work with them to get their feedback,” Taylor said. “Their opinion matters and we hope that everyone shows up to voice their ideal orientation of the skate park.”
Skateparks ‘vital’ to community, tourism
As cities grow, Sherwood, who opened Eduskate in 2012 with his wife Lindsey Podzimek, said there technically is more concrete around for people to skate on.
But he said business owners tend to be frustrated with people skating outside their properties. Some local skaters told The Gazette they feared they’d be reprimanded for skating on the streets in the months without Riverside Park.
That’s why a dedicated skate park is crucial to the survival of skateboarding, Sherwood said.
“It's definitely a vital backbone of the community. People travel from state to state to go to skateparks, especially if they're well-built and they're created nicely and they’re unique — just like people travel for golf courses,” said Sherwood, who has gone with Podzimek to Chicago, Des Moines and other cities for skateboarding — spending money on lodging, food and countless skateboards along the way.
Sherwood said there’s an exodus of people from the skate community who picked up their lives, got jobs in coffee or sandwich shops, broke up with their significant others and “moved like a pilgrim” when the Des Moines park was built.
He said he’s grown frustrated seeing that cities such as Manchester and Oskaloosa — with a fraction of Cedar Rapids’ population — can “have state-of-the-art skate parks, but yet we can't find funding for one.”
“I feel like this whole city thinks that they're going to bring in tourism dollars by the same generic footprint that they see everywhere else, but they're missing a crucial fact that skateboarding is a part of that equation,” Sherwood said.
Working on the Riverside skatepark wouldn’t preclude the city from making other investments in skate facilities, said Taylor, the Parks and Recreation director. But staff “wanted to make sure to put back anything that they would lose” for flood control construction.
Todd, recalling the original efforts to put in the skatepark, said the skate community raised thousands of dollars with concerts and events.
By the time this park is built, Todd said he worried there could be a lack of “political will to build another one.” He said the city should revisit the skatepark in its strategic plan.
“Why not just do it right the first time,” through a process of planning, identifying a location, engineering and fundraising, Todd asked.
Podzimek, who previously served on the city’s Parks, Recreation and Waterways Commission, said she’s cautiously optimistic in the direction of parks and recreation after the city closed Jones Golf Course. For years, she said, Cedar Rapids bled money to keep four municipal golf courses operational and only now seems willing to invest in pickleball.
She said she hopes to see a major investment in the skatepark and potentially smaller obstacles incorporated into the trail system or elsewhere around Cedar Rapids.
“My fear is that they're going to use this flood protection money, update the skatepark a little bit and then two, three years down the road, they're going to come back and say, ‘You guys got a new skatepark and we don't need to invest any money again for another 25 years,’” Podzimek said.
“In all reality, that should just be a stopgap measure to a bigger and better plan for skate parks throughout the entire community of Cedar Rapids.”
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