By Philip Gambini, Niagara Gazette
Mayor Paul Dyster had a skateboard once.
“It was a two-by-four with roller skates on the bottom and Richard Nixon was president,” he said at the Thursday opening of the Niagara Falls Skate Park on Hyde Park Boulevard.
As the mayor spoke, an eager group on the other side of an orange construction fence waited not-so-patiently for the OK to enter the park. They counted down the minutes through the scheduled event, one of them repeatedly blowing a low note into winding horn as more locals gathered outside the park.
When the ribbon was cut, they tore across the park to the city’s newest recreational facility without pause.
The ramps and rails are a long time coming. Seth Piccirillo, the city’s director of Community Development and prime mover in the effort, said plans for the park have been bounced around for two decades.
A resident-fueled discussion took place over the past two years and pushed his department to break ground on the facility, open to inline skaters, BMX riders and skateboarders.
“To the skaters, riders and in-liners, thank you for planning this park over the last two years. This is here because of you. This is your park, that’s why we put the NF on it,” he said, referencing the city’s initials that adorn one of the vert ramps. “We built it together, now you have to look after it.”
The $494,000 project was funded primarily through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with a $10,000 grant from professional skateboarder Tony Hawk’s foundation and a $9,000 city contribution.
The project was also staged with the assistance of the Niagara Falls Police Department. The department employed a strategy known as Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, or CEPTED, which focuses on preventing crime through design choices.
Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto has previously said the department successfully recommended a rotation in the initial orientation of the site, which created sight barriers from the surrounding roadways with large ramps that bookend the park. Now, the open flanks of the skate park face the roadway.
Piccirillo said the park will be open to the public and the city is without liability for any potential injuries there.
Dyster said that on repeated trips to Niagara Falls High School, the venue was routinely asked for by students.
Piccirillo said he has “never seen this much enthusiasm around a community development project.”
Added City Council Chairman Andrew Touma, “This is what happens when people listen to the public.”
Phil Mohr, the president of Niagara Falls Youth Bureau, said at the park’s groundbreaking that just a few years ago he would have agreed with those who believed there was not enough being done for the city’s youth. Projects like the skate park are changing that mindset, he said.
“This project has given our young people a seat at the table, a place to call their own,” Mohr said. “We followed a simple concept – listen to the community.”
To watch video of Thursday’s skate park opening, visit our website at www.niagara-gazette.com.