Skateboarders at Parisite in 2013.
If it all goes as planned, Mayor Mitch Landrieu
will bite into a reuben sandwich as a skateboarder ollies over his head. It's an appropriate celebration — a "reuben" cutting — for a skate park, the city's first-ever public one. Parisite Skate Park has been a labor of love for a group of skateboarders
who mixed concrete, built ramps, raised money and brought back into use what was essentially a garbage dump under the 6-10 overpass on Paris Avenue and Pleasure Street in Gentilly. The park officially opens at noon Saturday, Feb. 28.
"No one’s really done this before. It’s a city park, but it wasn’t paid for by the city," said artist Skylar Fein
, one of the park's organizers and advocates. "We’re all in uncharted territory."
In 2010, skaters had reclaimed the space, a decommissioned New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC) park — despite bulldozers from neighboring Norfolk Southern Railroad knocking down the park's first incarnation, The Peach Orchard, in 2011. The skateboarders and their advocates formed the nonprofit Transitional Spaces, which has worked with NORDC, Tulane City Center, Spohn Ranch Skateparks, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and the mayor's office to turn the 18,000-square foot space into a city-sanctioned public park. Until now, it was more of a guerrilla operation in which the skaters and the city "eyed each other cautiously but with optimism," Fein said.
"We have just enough in common — we love parks, we want more parks," Fein said. "That’s a powerful bond to have, a solidarity, for more infrastructure."
But Parisite has done the hard part — putting its own money into planning and building. Tulane City Center also donated building skate-able stairs, seating areas, rain gardens and other structures.
"People in the city by and large have been pretty impressed by the skaters," Fein said. "They were expecting pretty stereotypical (responses). Skateboarders are portrayed in the media as cartoon characters. ... They want to take responsible care of this park."
"By working together, we have created a unique place that can inspire our young people and give them an opportunity to stay physically active and out of trouble," Landrieu said in a statement to Gambit.
NORDC and Transitional Spaces agreed to a one-year pilot agreement to run, maintain, clean up and offer programming at the park. Parisite also is raising money to build more
— the all-volunteer Parisite crew plans to build out more ramps and other structures. It'll have to get approval from the city's capital projects administration, and Fein says Transitional Spaces has promised to run all its plans by City Hall.
"The city has a hard time getting kids to use some NORD facilities," Fein said, adding that Parisite has invited skaters to design charrettes to work with designers and architects. "You want a facility kids use? Have them design it with you."
The park will be open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Helmets are required, and children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Planned events at the park must have written approval from NORDC (call 504-658-3062).