Guest post by Sonja Walti
Nearly all seats were taken in the media room of RFK Stadium on June 28, when Events DC informed the community about a proposed skatepark on parking lot 3 across from the Armory. The project is intended to provide a venue for national and international events, while also serving the community. Maloof Money Cup will foot the $700,000 to $1 million bill for the RFK skatepark and in return benefit from hosting an annual event there. Besides neighbors and community members, some with their skateboard tucked under the table, Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander, Naomi Mitchell from Ward 6 Councilman Well’s office, and ANC and NCPC representatives sought information about the proposed skatepark.
Erik Moses, senior vice-president of Events DC and managing director of its Sport and Entertainment Division (formerly the Washington Convention and Sports Authority), pointed to the low rising concrete features of the proposed “skateboard plaza”, a design popular among skateboarding pros who participate in national and international competitions. Skateboard plazas don’t include half-pipes but instead emulate stairs, hand rails, curbs, and retaining walls coveted by the skateboarding community of a particular city.
Moses, flanked by Bill Minadeo of concrete skate park designer and builder California Skateparks, was not quite through with his presentation when he was peppered with questions from neighbors, who were likely envisioning rogue teens slamming their skateboards against the concrete at all hours of the day: What about security, what about toilets, lighting, and opening hours? And what about parking, traffic, and noise during events?
“You mention national and international sporting events, skateboarders from across DC, neighborhood teens, spectators; who exactly will this park serve?” an attendee demanded. “All of the above,” Moses answered a tad flippantly, but turned the ensuing silence to his advantage by detailing benefits for the community and the city as a whole.
Skateboard events, most importantly the Maloof Money Cup 2011, which Events DC hopes to host as an inaugural event on Labor Day, draw modest crowds compared to other sporting events held at RFK. The space around the “plaza” will accommodate temporary seating for 5,000 spectators for an event attracting up to 15,000 visitors over two days. Besides sporting events, the RFK skatepark could be rented to corporations for skateboarding themed promotional events or for the filming of commercials. The number of commercial uses will not be limited in the three to five year contract being negotiated between Events DC and its sponsoring partner Maloof Money Cup, according to Moses. The audience was assured that, on most of the days, the skatepark –which will be donated to the city upon completion – will be open and freely accessible to the public.
Events DC hopes that the RFK skatepark will be populated by neighborhood teens and skateboarders from across the District, who increasingly see the police crack down on them for running their boards across public and private spaces. Councilwoman Alexander sees it as an opportunity to curb the abuse by skateboarders of public facilities and buildings, such as Freedom Plaza, the Archives, and the World Bank. A mother (the author of this article), who is excited to see a recreational opportunity added for her emerging middle schooler, was assured that Events DC would welcome partnerships with nearby Eliot-Hine middle school and Eastern high school. An attendee’s question about sustainability features popular in West Coast skateboard plaza projects, such as a rain garden to manage water runoff, remained unanswered, but Events DC assured the audience that it will keep up the green space around the plaza.
Amid the prospect of seeing a parking lot demolished and populated by a community of teens depicted by one attendee as “self-policing,” the audience turned to debating how to assure that this project is up and running by September. The builder will need 45 days to build the plaza and pledges to draw on the DC workforce during its completion.