For 20 years, Go Skateboarding Day, on June 21, has been a time for enthusiasts to recognize (and play hooky from normal obligations) to hit sidewalks and skate parks and embrace the internationally celebrated sport of skateboarding.
But on this particular June 21, skateboarders in Birmingham rejoiced and marked a landmark moment: the opening of City Walk Skatepark – a place that is expected to change the face of skateboarding across the region.
“Birmingham is set to become the skateboarding mecca of the Southeast,” said al.com sports columnist Joseph Goodman about the new skate park, without a hint of irony. He said the quality of the new facility could put Birmingham in the running to host national and international skateboard competitions.
Operated by the national skateboard park management company Action Park Alliance, City Walk Skatepark is part of the new City Walk BHAM linear park that stretches for 10 blocks underneath the elevated section of Interstate Highway 59/20 through downtown Birmingham. There is no fee to use the skate park, although skaters and others – bicycle and scooter riders, roller skaters and inline skaters are also welcome – must sign a waiver. All City Walk BHAM amenities, including a walking trail, playgrounds, water features, recreation facilities, dog park and spaces for public events, are slated to be open in time for next month’s World Games 2022. The park is expected to be a major gathering place for visitors and athletes, with entertainment scheduled at the site throughout the Games.
The new skate park’s location beneath the interstate – providing a shield against the hot summer sun – was particularly appreciated Tuesday at noon, as temperatures loomed into the 90s. The covered location means the park can operate on pretty much any day, rain or shine, and outdoor lighting allows the park to stay open well after dark, until 10 p.m. daily.
“The shade is absolutely a huge benefit,” said Victor Nelson, operations director for Action Park Alliance, who flew in from overseas just in time for Tuesday’s soft opening. “It makes this usable practically 365 days a year.
“This is so sick,” Nelson added, looking out at the dozens of skateboarders careening through the park. Nelson said he had already helped outfit a boy for his first time on a skateboard. The boy was among hundreds of people who converged at the skate park within the first hour of operation.
Nelson said his company is talking with some of the competitive skateboarding tours about coming to the Birmingham facility. “This is going to be a national attraction, and very likely an international attraction.”
Local skateboarders testing out the park for the first time on Tuesday were wowed by its features. Designed by New Line Skateparks, the 57,111-square-foot skate park is the fifth largest in America and the largest in the Southeast, said Tony Misiano, New Line’s construction manager for the Birmingham park. The facility has multiple bowls for skaters of all skills, including one rated for Olympic-level competition. There are low-impact and high-impact street courses, and a “pump” track. Misiano said the course was designed so novice skateboarders have a “natural separation” from more experienced riders.
Nelson said a schedule of events will be developed for the skate park, starting with a competition Tuesday night for prizes and giveaways. Snacks, merchandise and helmets for rent will be available. A more formal grand opening for the skate park is planned for after The World Games.
Tad Snider, executive director and CEO of the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Authority, was on hand to check out the scene. He praised the Alabama Department of Transportation, which he said had pledged to build a “destination” under the rebuilt 59-20 bridges downtown. City Walk BHAM is the culmination of multiple public meetings about the space under the elevated highway, which was recently rebuilt, and how it should be used. City Walk was funded with ALDOT dollars.
The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex will be in charge of managing and operating the 1.5-mile City Walk that includes the skate park, under an agreement with the city of Birmingham.
Snider said the skate park is already proving its popularity and will add to the vibrancy that will be key to City Walk BHAM’s long-term success.
“It’s already drawing people of all ages, from all walks of life,” Snider said.