Sitting beneath an Interstate 95 overpass, Nick Katz watches two dozen athletes training on a makeshift ramp and Odebrecht highway barriers and wonders if one of them is a future Olympian.
There is talent swooping and sliding on skateboards on a late afternoon here on the asphalt of the Miami Parking Authority’s Lot 11, the next great hope for Miami’s skater community. Katz, a co-founder of the not-for-profit Skate Free, points out two young skaters who have corporate sponsors. Many others, some just kids, have potential, especially if given more of an opportunity.
“On the entire pro circuit, there’s one skater from Miami. One,” says Katz, a New World School of the Arts graduate who grew up skateboarding on stairs, planters and railings around the city. “There’s a reason for that.”
Miami has always had talented skaters. But the city has never had the facilities to elevate the sport — yes, sport — to a higher level. As skateboarding becomes more mainstream and prepares to possibly make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020, the city proper remains without a professional venue. Pop-up skate spaces like the shuttered Grand Central Park in the lot of the former Miami Arena have proved short-lived, and the permanent parks that do exist today are far from the urban topography of downtown.
But Katz and his partners at Skate Free think they’ve finally found a solution — and the money to pay for it.
About two weeks ago, Katz and partners Danny Fuenzalida and Richie Effs, opened Lot 11, the first skate space in Miami since a Red Bull park beneath the I-395 closed more than two years ago. Then last week, they took an even bigger step toward building a $1.45 million skate park when Miami commissioners agreed to spend $600,000 in city money on the project. They pledged the dollars on the condition that Katz’s family match the contribution, and that Skate Free and the city’s parking authority nail down a long-term land lease.
“I've been skating since I was 11 here in Miami,” Katz, 26, said as a steady stream of skaters whirred past him and launched over parking pylons from a sheet-metal ramp propped up on wood blocks. “All these cities I’ve been to have the same skate scene as Miami but so much more support.”
I just want something for this next generation of kids to have the same opportunity everyone else has
Nick Katz, Skate Free
Skate Free’s current agreement with the Miami Parking Authority is good for five years with renewals, at a cost of $1 a year. But Art Noriega, the head of the agency, says the Florida Department of Transportation can boot the skate park at any time with little notice. He’s working with Skate Free to massage the agreement to allow for a more secure set-up.
If that happens, Katz believes the skate park can be designed and built in roughly a year in the space off Northwest Third Court and First Street between downtown and Overtown. Along with some standard skate park structures, like a bowl and street plaza, he plans to include some of skateboarders’ favorite Miami architecture, like a slanted, triangular piece of art in Bayfront Park and the Culmer ledges in Henry Reeves Park — spots that, incidentally, are illegal to skate.
Tyquan Davis, 13, usually skates at Henry Reeves, but he’s happy now to have a place in Lot 11 where he can go without getting chased by security guards and police. Only a few months ago, Katz says, the lot was used as an overflow lot for Brickell Motors.
“It’s fun,” said Davis, who has learned a few tricks from Katz. “I was skating illegal. This is legal. So it’s better than the cops messing with me out there.”
Stephen Patterson, 22, said Lot 11 is filling a void in the scene that forces skaters onto the streets, often angering business and property owners. Street skating won’t disappear with the opening of a professional skate park, but a permanent facility at least offers skaters the choice, he said.
“I’ve had countless encounters with security guards,” he said. “I’m respectful, but it’s like damn there’s nowhere to go.”
There is now, though. And Katz hopes that, soon enough, skaters in Miami won’t have to worry any longer about searching for another new spot to call home.
“I just want something for this next generation of kids to have the same opportunity everyone else has,” he said.