New skate park envisioned for downtown Minneapolis

Google Street

Google Street

There's a dead spot in the Warehouse District.

No one lives where the highway meets Target Field's parking garages, under the skyway at North 2nd Avenue and North 4th Street. Few businesses bring foot traffic. In the evenings, police keep a sharp eye on the people who crowd that strip of sidewalk because there's nowhere else to sit.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) owns this vacant lot, but hasn't known what to do with it for a long time. Downtown Minneapolis business associations couldn't find anyone with a vision of making it into something useful.

Until Midwest Skateboarding Alliance came along.

Midwest Skateboarding Alliance is a group of smart and sensible skateboarding advocates led by epidemiologist Brenda Hoppe. Their goal is to popularize the sport, build skateparks, and end the stereotype of skateboarding as a public nuisance.

Her focus, Hoppe says, is creating community around skateboarding. "It's about using skateboarding and skate parks as a tool for getting kids started skateboarding, keeping older kids like myself on a skateboard, and adding in general to the park scene and just boosting civic pride."

When Hoppe approached the Downtown Improvement District with the idea of putting a skatepark right in the thick of downtown Minneapolis, the empty parcel at 2nd and 4th was the first place that come to mind for urban design director Ben Shardlow.

"It could be a really good fit, because it's a little gritty," Shardlow says. "It would help change the dialogue about skateboarding happening downtown in areas where it's not allowed, and considered a nuisance behavior because it's leading to property destruction. And to change the dialogue from, 'You kids get off our lawn,' to 'Go over there. There's a really nice skate park over there. It's more fun than this granite bench.'"

Landscape architecture firm Damon Farber drew up some concept plans, pro bono, and Midwest Skateboarding Alliance started meeting with MnDOT, the Warehouse Business Association, 1st Precinct officers with the Minneapolis Police Department, the city parks department, and the Downtown Council. The project was described as an opportunity to include green space, picnic tables for community gathering, a dog run, and a recreational space for Youthlink, a homeless youth service center that doesn't have much to do for fun nearby.

"It also seems like a really fun opportunity on the horizon as we host the X Games this summer and next," Shardlow says. "Everyone acknowledges that our existing skate parks are not stellar. This has the potential to shape up to be a really great project to address that."

Thomas Whitlock, president of Damon Farber, says there's much support among these stakeholders for Midwest Skateboarding Alliance's vision. Damon Farber is located right across the street from the proposed site, and Whitlock says he's noticed over time that there are a ton of dog-walkers in the area who could use a designated park. The street might be perfect for food trucks to park along, he adds, and giving people a place to sit down could beautify even the gameday experiences of Twins fans driving up and down the street.

"It could be a space where people could get out and actually feel the sun on their face," Whitlock says. "Get something to eat and get outside their office during the lunch hour. It enhances the businesses."

Midwest Skating Alliance still needs to secure funding -- the park is estimated to cost $440,000 -- and deal with city land use regulations, but if all goes well, construction could begin next year.