The story of New Orleans’ first public skatepark can’t be told without mentioning the Red Bull Mississippi Grind. The RBMG event series centered around a skateable barge that floated down the Mississippi River from St. Paul, MN to New Orleans, Louisiana, stopping at port cities along the way to host competitions and demos. After the final stop in New Orleans, the skate elements were to be donated to the City and incorporated into a permanent skatepark.
The goal was to place the grind rails and concrete elements in storage for a short time until a location was finalized. Unfortunately, due to a bit of politics and red tape, the site selection process didn’t proceed as quickly as everyone had hoped and almost a full year elapsed before an agreeable site was identified. That site turned out to be an expanse of concrete under the Interstate 610 at the corner of Paris Avenue and Pleasure Street.
The area under the bridge hadn’t served a specific purpose in years and it provided effective insulation from the rain, so local skateboarders were already using the space as a makeshift skatepark. They hauled in homemade ramps and rails and experimented with DIY concrete creations. Although a picturesque park landscape was the original vision, this defacto skatepark under the bridge had strong community support and began to emerge as a natural fit for the RBMG elements. And from the City’s perspective, professional-level skatepark construction from Spohn Ranch could help legitimize the space and ensure respect from the community’s skateboarders.
It wasn’t time to grab the RBMG elements out of storage just yet, however. Working hand-in-hand with the City of New Orleans and Louisiana Department of Transportation, we navigated more logistical and governmental barriers in order to gain official approval for the site. Through a series of design charrettes, webinars and conference calls, we also collaborated with local skateboarders to create the final layout for our designated section under the bridge. The final skatepark design focused on intelligent flow and a good balance of street and transition-style terrain – blending the RBMG elements with new cast-in-place concrete and shotcrete.
For flush transitions throughout, we cut and demo’d sections of the existing slab where the RBMG elements and new concrete would be seamlessly integrated. We then tapped into our experience with structurally-engineered styrofoam to create the elevated deck areas where riders would congregate and begin their runs.
Unfortunately, the existing surface under the bridge was extremely rough, so after we finished building the new terrain, our crew then spent several days thoroughly grinding and polishing the concrete floor slab to create the smooth finish required for skateboarding.
As a final touch and tribute to the original RBMG project, we stained outlines of the States of Minnesota and Louisiana (start and finish of the barge’s journey) in the skateable terrain. The States were then connected by staining a winding blue outline into the concrete flatwork – recreating the Mississippi River’s true north-south flow.
While skaters from all over Louisiana have already been flocking to NOLA to sneak renegade sessions, , an official grand opening celebration is in the works and will be announced shortly. Bringing the project full circle, we’ll bring back a handful of the skateboarders from Red Bull’s professional team to perform a demo for the community.
Not unlike the Mississippi River itself, the journey was long and winding, but we feel deeply honored to be able to give the skateboarders of New Orleans their first public skatepark. After years of making due with practically nothing, they sure as hell deserve it.