Bringing Boards Downtown: Why a Skate Park Could Be In GR’s Future

Mike Dallas has already undergone surgery on his right shoulder. He needs another operation on his left.

The owner of Bustin’ Boards, a Brooklyn, New York-based longboard manufacturer, makes his home in Grand Rapids, which is where he grew up. Dallas’ shoulder injuries are the result of a lifetime of riding and are a somewhat painful reminder of how hard it can be to remain upright and on your board.

Just as Dallas has taken some physical hits, he’s also observed an overall decrease in the number of people buying boards and participating in the sport. Still, for him and others in the Grand Rapids boarding community, things are starting to look up.

Ty Butler and Mike Dallas pose with their boards in front of the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
Ty Butler and Mike Dallas pose with their boards in front of the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

To begin, the City of Grand Rapids legalized skateboarding downtown earlier this year. That development, along with a successful second annual Urban Downhill Skateboarding event at this year’s Summer State Games of Michigan, makes Dallas optimistic that longboarding is about to take off in a big way in Grand Rapids. Plans for a skate park are even included in a GR Forward plan for downtown, which sought public input and will next move to the planning commission before a vote by the city commission.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) facilitated the GR Forward planning process.  President and CEO Kris Larson said the plan is “trending toward a fall 2015 approval.” He said providing residents and visitors with vibrant recreation options is important in building on downtown’s reputation as inclusive and open to everyone.

Ty Butler, left, and Mike Dallas, right, on an afternoon ride along the Grand River.
Ty Butler, left, and Mike Dallas, right, on an afternoon ride along the Grand River.

“Downtown is a neighborhood, an employment center, and a regional cultural and entertainment destination,” he said. “For each of these reasons, designing for a diverse audience of citizens will allow each functionality to more fully realize its potential.”

Larson said two sites are being explored for the potential skate park. Both are currently surface parking lots underneath a section of US-131, one off Cherry Street and the other off Bridge Street. Even if the master plan is approved with the skate park intact, years of planning, fundraising, and construction would loom.

“My guess is that the skate park is on a three to four year implementation horizon,” Larson said.

Dallas and others in the skating community, such as Midland transplant Ty Butler, will be there every step of the way to pitch in and see their sport grow. Butler said there’s a tightknit community of skaters in West Michigan. Personally, he fell in love with longboarding after dabbling in snowboarding and skateboarding when he was younger.

“I’ve been on some sort of board all my life,” Butler joked.

Although riding downtown’s hills is thrilling, Dallas is quick to point out that distance pushing – riding longboards endurance-style using the region’s many long, flat trails, such as the White Pine – is on the rise. It’s one more way the city and region are well-positioned to see a longboard renaissance.

“We like to refer to it as multi-modal transportation,” Dallas said.

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Photo credit: Julie Bitely

 

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