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Austin's new 30,000-square-foot skate park opens today

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com

A concrete plaza filled with ramps, stairs, rails, a half-pipe and what looks like an empty swimming pool will open its doors to skateboarders and bicyclists today.

Besides more than a dozen obstacles constructed for riding, jumping and launching, the Austin BMX & Skate Park includes restrooms, water fountains and public art. It was built with $1.7 million in bond money approved by voters in 2006.

Skateboarders and BMX bicyclists — who ride small, maneuverable bikes designed for spinning and doing tricks — have been lobbying for such a park for more than a decade.

Some apparently can't wait for the opening. Several of the park's features already bear light scuff marks from riders who sneaked in after hours to test them out.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. today; the park officially opens at noon.

"I assume it's going to be like a bunch of racehorses in stalls when they cut that ribbon," said Michael Von Ohlen, president of Prism Development, one of the contractors on the project.

The park is at 1213 Shoal Creek Blvd., the site of the Old Austin Recreation Center just south of House Park Field. Construction began in October .

Von Ohlen said some of the park's future users have perched on a nearby parking garage nightly to watch the construction progress.

Austin already has a smaller skate park at Mabel Davis Park, but that one is geared toward advanced riders. The new park is a few blocks north of Duncan Park, where BMXers have built a series of dirt jumps and ramps.

The new 30,000-square-foot park has a variety of obstacles — including a concrete hump, that swimming pool-like bowl and several concrete pyramids — for all skill levels.

"It's designed to look and feel and evoke the sense of an urban plaza," said Marty Stump, park development coordinator. Some elements are edged with steel or topped with granite to make them more durable.

"Everyone is really excited about it, for sure," said Elias Bingham, 34, owner of No-Comply, a nearby skateboard gear and apparel shop. "There's definitely a big need for it, and compared to any other public park it'll get a lot more use. We expect 200 people a day or more to go through there."

Bingham, who participated in public meetings to gather input for designing the park, predicted it will become a destination for skateboarders and BMXers across the country.

Volcom, an international skateboarding brand, has expressed interest in hosting a competition at the park in October.

"It's exciting for the city," Stump said. "Twenty years ago, it might have been tennis courts. Now it's action sports. It's the evolution of recreation."

New Line Skate Parks of Canada designed the park, which was engineered by Baker-Aicklen & Associates and Jose Guerra Inc. Prism Development and California Skateparks built it.

Because there is no lawn to mow, the park will be relatively easy to maintain, parks officials said.

Chris Levack's metal artwork was commissioned through the City of Austin's Art in Public Places Program. It includes "Iron Wave," a huge, tortilla chip-shaped skateable structure at one end of the park, and the leaflike "Trilobite Arbor," which will provide shade.

The park will be open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Admission is free. City officials encourage the use of helmets and pads.

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994