NF Skate Park Turns One: Lessons From A Successful Community Project

“It will be a haven for vandalism and crime.”                                                                                                                                         “The kids won’t respect it. Senior citizens will oppose it.”                                                                                                                   "Only white suburban kids skateboard.”

These statements were heard before we started actually planning the NF Skate Park, three years ago.  All of these statements were absolutely false.

The NF Skate Park, 898 Hyde Park Boulevard, Niagara Falls, New York 14301, turned one year old on October 5, 2017.  It sits within Hyde Park, the city’s largest and most central public space. Since day one, the NF Skate Park has hosted many skaters and riders of all ages and demographics whenever the weather cooperates. However, this project’s story started long before 2017. For us, the planning of this successful community project is even more important than the final product. So, what did we learn? A lot.

There has been talk of a skate park in Niagara Falls since the 1980s, but a feasible project never came together. Misconceptions about who skaters were, how skate culture would be received, what an actual skate park consists of and where it should be built stalled progress. When Niagara Falls Community Development began seriously looking at the idea in August 2014, we found these assumptions to be hearsay and that all of the relevant questions could be answered through research. We just needed to have real conversations with skaters, riders, our community and a few skate park experts. 

Over a span of nine months, we met with skaters to brainstorm about what they wanted in a park. It was clear: if we were going to build a skate park, the skaters wanted the real thing, not a black topped tennis court. We connected skaters with our residents to start a dialogue and select a location, started a community petition, while contracting with Spohn Ranch Skateparks for design, and consulting The Tony Hawk Foundation Skate Park Development Guide for technical guidance. Working with Spohn Ranch converted the post-it notes from our idea sessions to the well-balanced layout with both street and transition-style terrain and clear flow that you see today. We decided to allow BMX bikes and inline skates prior to design, in order to create an inclusive space. Additional requests included a mini-ramp section and a section with flat ledges and manual pads reminiscent of downtown New York City’s plazas. Lastly, the community requested an iconic element which came to fruition in the form of skateable “NF” letters

We partnered with the Mayor, City Council, Niagara Falls Police Department and Department of Public Works to create a plan for supervising and maintaining the space consistent with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. By taking our time, and simply talking to as many people as possible, a consensus was built. We applied for a United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant as the project's primary funding source, and we broke ground two years after our first skater idea session. The NF Skate Park's ribbon cutting remains one of the most exciting and fulfilling event in our department's recent history.

The first year of the skate park confirmed everything we learned during its planning: if you build a space with care, the public will care for it. There has been zero police calls to the park. No fights. A two foot second of it was spray painted once, and addressed immediately. The skaters called us, and said they wanted it gone.  The skaters and riders have worked with the Department of Public Works to keep the space clean. Most importantly, the surrounding neighborhood and Hyde Park patrons have welcomed in the NF Skate Park.

Lessons Learned for Other Municipalities: We highly recommend that other municipalities consider skate parks in their communities. As a northeastern city, we recommend concrete as the most appropriate material to withstand snow cover and inclement weather, while also providing the best skate features. Skate Parks, when designed and built correctly, carry significant construction costs. At the same time, concrete parks do not have high annual maintenance costs, as all the features are structurally secure and permanent. It is important to view the construction of a skate part as a significant capital project and facility versus the addition of a simple park amenity. We have learned that two hours is an average skate session and that at least 30 people will use the NF Skate Park on a good weather day, especially in the hours of 4 to 8 pm. If 30 people use the park for 2 hours per day, seven months a year, the facility will host approximately 12,600 individual use hours per year. Compared to other outdoor public facilities, this level of use will help justify cost versus return on investment.  

We also recommend a deliberate planning period with as much community participation as possible. Do not plan a skate park in one year. Host multiple skater work shops, then community workshops and get input on draft design. It will ensure that the park includes the right features and will also create public buy in. Start by visiting places where kids skate and ride right now or get the word out through local skate shops. In addition to creating a skate park, this process taught us a great deal about young people in our city. We have been able to apply those lessons to how we plan other projects. So, get people around a table. It is the best way to drop into the skate park building process.