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Popular Lower East Side Skate Park Rolling Out Renovation Plan

By Patrick Hedlund | June 15, 2011 7:00am | Updated on June 15, 2011 6:52am

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

LOWER EAST SIDE — An ailing skate park underneath the Manhattan Bridge is preparing for a major facelift after receiving a grant to kick-start improvements.

The expansive park, sitting directly under the bridge on Monroe Street next to Coleman Playground, is a well-known destination for skaters from around the city due to its proximity to multiple subway lines.

But a dirty and cracking surface, as well as the loss last year of the legendary Brooklyn Banks skate park under the Brooklyn Bridge, have made enhancements necessary to serve the city's thriving skate community, advocates said.

"It's the best location, but it's the worst skate park," said Steve Rodriguez, founder of 5boro Skateboards and one of the city's leading advisors on skate park design. "It's completely rotten."

Late last year, Rodriguez applied for a grant with the GameChangers Sports Micro-Venture Fund, a partnership between Nike Inc. and the nonprofit Architecture for Humanity. It was selected to receive funding for the renovations.

While the grant amount has not yet been finalized, the longtime skateboard advocate said that simple improvements like repaving the current surface and creating more routes that connect to the surrounding area would go a long way toward maintaining the park as a world-class attraction.

"To me it's almost like an eyesore, and it's very dirty because of the surface," said Rodriguez, 40, of NoHo, who noted he still visits the park about five times a week, and that major skateboarding events are regularly held there.

The current tar-coated asphalt surface is slippery for skaters and leaves behind stains on their clothing after falls — something Rodriguez said is enough for young riders to avoid the area, often at the behest of their clothes-washing parents.

The park's obstacles, including worn ramps, rails and concrete blocks, are also in need of an update, he added. Additionally, a chain-link fence surrounding the skate park separates it from the rest of the green space, lending it a prohibitive feel that doesn't fit well with the surrounding area.

"The community [should] enjoy it as much as the users — either by watching or bringing their kids there," he said

Rodriguez, who helped design the recently opened Astoria Skate Park in Queens and a handful of other spots across the city, explained that the improvements are even more necessary given the lack of places to skate downtown following the Sept. 11 attacks.

"You could skate anywhere before 9/11," he said, noting that skaters regularly took to places throughout lower Manhattan, including Wall Street and even Police Headquarters, prior to 2001.

"Since 9/11, the open space downtown has either been policed to death, security-guarded to death or just taken away."

Skaters at the park on a recent afternoon agreed that the number of spots downtown has dwindled — the city recently cracked down on riding in the nearby public plaza at Kimlau Square — giving them fewer places to perfect their craft.

"You have skaters getting chased off property all the time, and that's only because there's not enough places dedicated for skating," said Joseph McKee, 24, of the Upper East Side, who called the site his favorite in the city.

"It's the best spot in Manhattan where you're not going to get kicked out or harassed."

A community design session was held at the park last month, and skaters have been encouraged to fill out a survey with their thoughts on what the renovations should include.

Despite it's problems, many city skaters have a soft spot for the park.

"Everybody can get to it because it's near every train," said Nick Hidalgo, 16, of Brooklyn, who's been skating for three years. "This is the first skate park I came to. It's like home."

The project will be discussed at a Community Board 3 meeting on Thurs., June 16, 6:30 p.m., at 30 Delancey St.