Longform

Legendary Dallas Skateboarders, Rebuffed By The City In Their Efforts To Build A Public Skatepark, Go Underground And Build Their Own.

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"As the process moved along, it came to the point where the friends of the Trinity Strand Trail had to endorse the idea of a skatepark," recalls Willis Winters, assistant director of the city's Park and Recreation Department. "It was put to a board vote, and they decided it would not really fit into their plans for the connection, and at that point it went away."

Just why that happened depends on who you ask. "They balked because Trammell Crow held them hostage," Coker says, repeating the popular story that circulated among the skaters: Folks at Crow Holdings became wary of having a public skatepark—and the spray-painting punks in hoodies sure to come with it—close to its new headquarters in the Old Parkland Hospital, and they threatened to withhold selling certain pieces of land to the city if the skatepark were built.

While the story's become a kind of creation tale uniting the skaters at Guapo—the stodgy old folks still trying keep skateboarding down because of their old stereotypes—trail planners say the skatepark was just one of many options that were considered and shot down on their merits. "It's just not something we thought was consistent with the project at that time," says Crow Holdings' Steve Bancroft, who sits on the board of the Trinity Strand Trail. Bancroft recalls a few presentations about the skatepark, made directly to Crow, and guesses he drew the most attention because Crow owned so much land around the trail. In the end, though, he says, "I didn't write a position paper on it. I don't remember killing it myself."

Rebuffed at the Trinity Strand, Coker and Benati took their plans directly to the Park and Recreation Department, where Winters says he thought they'd found a home at Fair Park, not far from the DART station. But Coker says the Friends of Fair Park had other long-term plans for the land. Another prospective location at Bachman Lake wasn't big enough. Months of running in circles, Coker says, sapped the energy from the project and chased his donor away. "You know, the city squandered an opportunity," Coker says. "Like how many guys are walking around with a million bucks saying, 'I'm gonna give you a million bucks to build a skatepark?'"

While support for Coker's public park was derailing, the city built a small skatepark in East Dallas' Lakeland Hills neighborhood, a prefabricated, off-the-shelf park with movable ramps and rails. It felt like a slap in the face to Coker and other skaters who'd been pitching their own design, though Winters says the timing was pure coincidence. "Some of the kids that lived in the Lakeland Hills Park neighborhood approached us and we directed them to their council member," he recalls. Back in 2007 each council member had free rein over a discretionary fund to spend in his or her own district, and Leo Cheney, who represented District 7, put $250,000 toward improving Lakeland Hills Park, including the addition of a $100,000 skatepark.

It's not just the timing of the park the skaters objected to, but the prefab park itself—"playground equipment" they call it, when they're being generous. Carter Dennis, the skatepark advocate, is familiar with Lakeland Hills, and remains opposed to prefab parks. "We're trying to convince cities to do it the right way," Dennis says. He advocates a "permanent, poured-in-place concrete skate park," with room for custom routes around the park, and landscaping to help it fit in with the neighborhood.

In 2008, Houston opened a $3 million, 30,000-square-foot downtown skatepark, and plans to open a 50,000-foot skatepark in North Houston next year. San Antonio is opening four new parks this year, Dennis says, and Austin is breaking ground on a large downtown skatepark as well. "You're seeing all these big cities moving forward on this, but in Dallas we haven't really seen anything," Dennis says. "Dallas is notorious for being behind."

"There's a lot of poor kids, a lot of lower-middle-class kids—their parents don't have time to freakin' take them to a park," Coker says. In an urban setting, a public skatepark with easy DART access can open up the sport to kids who just need a place to ride.

Winters says Dallas' Park and Recreation Department is doing all it can just to maintain the facilities it's already got after years of budget cuts. Ideally, he says, he'd like to see Dallas build a network of small skateparks anchored by one major park near a DART station, which could be run by an outside operator. "I still think Fair Park is a good site," he says, envisioning a park within a $2-3 million extreme sports complex that could host the X Games. "We need more of these facilities around the city. I can't tell you how many times we have a conversation about a major skatepark."

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Patrick Michels
Contact: Patrick Michels