This has been a big news week for parks in Fresno.
On Monday, the city announced its proposed budget, which allocates close to $6 million for parks and recreation.
It was quickly met with outcry from those in the community who think the millions are not nearly enough.
In the midst of that debate is the skate park at Romain Playground, which will get a renovation and upgrade at no cost to the city thanks to a partnership between Street League Skateboarding Foundation, The California Endowment and Fresno Building Healthy Communities.
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The foundation, which was started by professional skater and reality TV star Rob Dyrdek, believes skateboarding can help create healthy, sustainable neighborhoods, especially in under-served parts of the state. It has already worked with The California Endowment to build similar skate plazas in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles.
“Our plan is to build skate plazas all over the world,” says Paul Vizcaino, director of public affairs with the foundation.
It has had its eye on Fresno since Vizcaino and Dyrdek visited the city several years ago.
Skateboarding is the third most popular sport among teenagers, just behind basketball and football, Vizcaino says. Yet, skateboarders often face prejudice and don’t have enough facilities, a fact he points out with a series of what ifs.
“What if there were only 500 basketball courts in the U.S.? What if kids were being arrested for playing baseball in the streets, or getting injured because they’re forced to play football in empty parking lots?”
While skateboarding has become a legitimate sport, it continues to be overlooked by communities.
Fresno does have its share of skate parks, but most (including the one at Romain) are designed for vert skating, says Jesse Guillen, who works at the Tower District skate shop Shredworthy. Vert skating involves transitioning from the horizontal plane to the vertical plane via large ramps and bowls. Think the X Games.
“As awesome as that is, there aren’t a lot of vert skaters in town,” Guillen says.
The alternative is street skating, which more accurately portrays the urban landscapes in which skaters find themselves, especially in a town like Fresno, where the nearest skate park could be 4 miles by bus or board, Guillen says.
The Romain plaza is already being talked about with excitement in the shop. Several of the shop’s regulars attended an initial informational meeting last month, where they gave input on the types of obstacles they would like to see.
In all, more than 200 people showed up for the first workshop. A second meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. May 27 at Romain Playground, where the design concepts will be unveiled.
The massive response at that first meeting shows that parks are important, says Sandra Celedon-Castro, the hub manager with Fresno Building Healthy Communities. The organization spent close to four years talking with residents and getting feedback on what they want to see in their neighborhoods.
“People want more and better parks,” she says.
They want amenities.
At Romain, that means a skate plaza.
“You can see there is massive demand,” says Zach Wormhoudt, the principal landscape architect with California Skateparks, the company that will oversee the design and build of the plaza. “They are basically using up every last square inch of the existing facility.”
The new plaza will replace the current park with a design that mimics the courses set up for professionals in the Street League competitions — with a series of ledges and stairs, planter boxes, curbs and the like.
It’s a pro-skating version of a little league field, Vizcaino says.
It’s building the next generation of professional skater.
The plaza is already getting buzz for its connection to Dyrdek and Street League Skateboarding, which will bring several of its pro skaters to the plaza’s grand opening. That’s how I happened upon the story.
Once completed, it will draw skaters from around the world, Vizcaino says: “Every skate park we’ve built has become a destination location.”
Romain Skatepark meeting, 4:30 p.m Wednesday, May 27, at Romain Playground. Details: (559) 256-8722, www.fresnobhc.org