WHAT IT IS: Vacant pavement.
Today, the cracked and faded tennis courts off St James Street are nothing much to look at. But local skaters have visions of grandeur for this chunk of land, about three-quarters of an acre on Dougherty Field, which the city council chose in August as the site for Portland’s new skate park.
With gleams in their eyes, skaters describe a “rideable sculpture park” comprised of "oververt" bowls (with rounded edges that curl up and over); ramps and stairs that mimic city skating; and a rainbow-shaped, waist-high metal grind bar. They want to plant trees, both to enhance the aesthetic and to absorb sound — a concern of some neighbors who live on the opposite side of the field, on Douglass Road (the park itself will be situated off non-residential St. James Street, directly below I-295). The skaters want snaking paths, benches with metal caps (to make them grind-able), and “flow,” says Eli Cayer, a community organizer who heads the local group MENSK and who unofficially represents the skateboarders.
“The better we build this park, the broader the demographic who will visit Portland to skate it,” says 40-year-old Tobias English, a Falmouth skateboarder and MENSK board member who has traveled in the Northwest and California to try out specific skate parks.
The city and the skaters have yet to start officially designing Portland’s park, but there’s no shortage of ideas, many culled through comparison — experienced skateboarders have only to flip through their memories of other parks to weed out desirable features from unattractive ones. Kentucky’s Louisville Extreme Park, a 40,000-square-foot extreme-sport extravaganza is often named as an example of the ultimate skate park; The Plaza at the Forks skate park in Winnipeg, Canada, is also extolled for its urban landscape.
WHAT IT COULD BE: Louisville's Extreme Park.
Closer to home, the Biddeford and Lewiston skate parks both have offered examples of things to consider in designing our city’s skate park, says 27-year-old skateboarder and in-line skater Bret LaBelle. Walkways must be sufficiently wide, so skaters don’t get grass and mud in the soles of their sneakers; railings should be long enough to ensure a mellow ride and enough time to complete tricks.
One Portlander, Lawrence Freeman, 40, has a very different criterion for the ideal skate park — he wants it to be indoors, which would allow for year-round skating. (The city council is not considering an indoor park.) Working separately from the loose coalition that helped choose the Dougherty Field location, Freeman and his 13-year-old daughter Alison have spent the last several months organizing an event to fund their own vision, which will come to fruition from 1 to 8 pm Friday, when about 75 skateboard decks — each festooned with local art, from paintings to graffiti — will be auctioned at the Art on Decks Fest (MySpace.com/artondecksfest) at the corner of High and Congress streets. There will be a $50 minimum bid for the decks.
Freeman says he would consider using the Art on Decks money to fund a “first phase” of wooden — i.e., temporary — ramps at the St. James Street tennis courts, in the hopes of eventually raising enough money to build an indoor park.