Amid the rumble and clack of skateboard wheels, more than 50 kids of all ages gather daily at the Skate Park at Grand Central Park in downtown Miami. They’re popping ollies and performing other tricks that land many of them on their bottoms. Other kids take a break and sit around the edges or try to grind their boards on some rehabbed benches.
The skaters, ranging in age from early teens to early 30s, have known for some time that Grand Central Park is only temporary, but they have no other place to go near downtown Miami to perform their moves.
“Kids have to go several miles away to find the closest skate park,” said Nick Katz, a semi-professional skateboarder who moved to Miami from California.
Grand Central Park, located at 700 N. Miami Ave., was created on the site of the former Miami Arena. Less than 10 months after it opened in early 2012, the park was sold to developers for $35 million. On a three-year lease to the nonprofit Omni Parkwest Redevelopment Association, Inc., the park was developed by urban activist Brad Knoefler, who along with the Sandra E. James Foundation combined to raise $25,000 for the project.
“I wanted a place for these kids to skate,” said Knoefler, who firmly believes that a great city has more than just tall buildings. “A great city ought to have green spaces.”
The Skate Park at Grand Central Park opened to much fanfare in February, touting itself as the only place for skaters within miles of downtown Miami. Skateboarders from all over Miami joined Knoefler and Katz to build the do-it-yourself park, reclaiming discarded benches from Miami-Dade County and occasionally scoring some free concrete, blocks and lumber from local building companies. They set up a half-pipe and several obstacles across 15,000 square feet of space.
“It was great seeing all the kids just coming together and really working hard at getting the park in shape,” said Katz.
On a recent warm and partly sunny Saturday afternoon, Efrain Callava, 27, was taking a break from the skating. He started skating as a teenager, when his favorite haunt was Miami Marine Stadium.
“My friends and I snuck in there and we built small ramps and just started jumping and doing all the moves,” Callava said. “It was fun until the cops kicked us out.”
Although he got older and got a job, he still skates, and Grand Central is where he goes. “We can really ride here.”
A sudden burst of rain stopped all the action at the park. But as soon as the clouds dispersed, everyone was back shredding their skateboards.
“The police don’t bother us,” Katz said when asked about police reaction to the park. “They actually like us because they know we’re here, having fun instead of out on the street bothering people and doing other things.”
However, the real enemies of the skate may be some residents of the nearby condominiums. Katz didn’t want to provide details, but some neighbors have complained about the noise at night. “Mostly, this happened when the park opened and we hadn’t yet set opening and closing hours for the park.” Relations have improved, he said, but only slightly.
Danny Fuenzalida, a 31-year-old professional skater, spent the afternoon showing the local kids his moves and giving them some hope that someday they could turn pro.
“I turned pro when I was 21. It’s a lot of work, a lot of practice and you need to find sponsors,” he said. Fuenzalida is in town for Go Skateboarding Day, celebrated around the world on Friday. Skate parks across South Florida will use the day for fun and raise awareness about issues skateboarders face all over the world.
One of those kids waiting on his dream of greatness on a skateboard is Antony “Tony” Johnson, 14, of Miami. He started skating two years ago in Tallahassee before moving to Miami.
“This is a great place to skate,” Johnson said. It’s a great place to have fun and learn to be a better skater.”
Johnson already has a sponsor: Doggystyle Miami, a local hotdog vendor.
Owned and operated by chef Manuel Rivera, Doggystyle has set up a tent at the skate park. Rivera sells his wares there to the weary and thirsty skaters. As a park volunteer, he also makes sure the kids’ parents or guardians sign the consent form before the kids place their feet on the boards.
“I’m making sure everything is proper. And all the profits I make go back to the park,” Rivera said.
Katz said that with the Grand Central Park’s demise coming when the lease ends in 2015, Knoefler and others are looking for another place in downtown Miami to re-create a skate park.
“This site will eventually be another high-rise of some sort, so we’re thinking of moving to a parking lot nearby. We’re still in talks with the city, but we have high hopes.”