Will the skate park in JP ever get the overhaul that it was promised?
For the most part, the half-mile stretch of the Southwest Corridor Park between the Stony Brook and Green Street MBTA stops seems to be exactly what any local might desire in a public space. On one bright afternoon that I visited, the area was stirring with activity: Picnic blankets dotted the lawn north of New Minton Street, locals challenged each other to tennis matches on adjacent courts, and children raced around the block, looking for raspberries to pick off of the surrounding fences.
At the far end of the lawn, however, before the park ends and gives way to the Amtrak tunnel below, lies an eyesore that has sat neglected for years: the Jamaica Plain skatepark.
The facility itself, which is really a repurposed roller hockey rink, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the park. Littered with stray pieces of debris and caked mud due to its lack of a functional drainage system, it consists of little more than a few ramps and rails made of wood and concrete that are either already in a state of disrepair or on the verge of it. The skatepark lacks lights as well, preventing activity at night, and arguably encouraging its use as an unofficial location for people who use drugs to rendezvous.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the skatepark story is that it was allocated $75,000 for repairs in a public-private partnership between the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Converse, and the nonprofit organization Wheels of Steel more than five years ago. According to documents from the Southwest Corridor Park Management Advisory Council, planning for the project started as early as 2011.
Despite the DCR’s co-sign on the project, it doesn’t seem the state or anybody else is very eager to get rolling. Skateboarders Max Nagel and Matt Tomasello, whom I met at the park, say that they heard about the money but have not seen any of it put into use. If anything, the opposite has been true. “People from the DCR come every couple years and take away all the interior features that haven’t been bolted down,” Nagel reports. “That’s why we have to keep constructing our own platforms for tricks. We’re a DIY community, so it’s what we’re used to, but it would be great to get support from the state for this—especially since it’s already been promised.”
According to sources within the DCR, the delayed renovation of the skatepark is most likely a symptom of a much larger issue: the ever-decreasing transparency of the agency as a whole. According to a DCR park supervisor who asked to remain anonymous, the Southwest Corridor Park flourished much more when it was under the control of the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), before it was merged with the Department of Environmental Management to form the DCR. According to the source, the public had a lot more input regarding the various amenities to be included in the redesign when it was under MDC control. After the merge, however, the newly centralized structure of the DCR drastically decreased the agency’s responsiveness to citizens. “The DCR doesn’t necessarily want the general public to know where and what it is spending its money on,” the source said. “Oftentimes, we don’t have the staff to supervise current projects properly.”
In spite of the lack of faith my DCR source showed for their employer, it seems something may finally be done about the skatepark once and for all. According to Ben Gedeon, park manager of the Southwest Corridor Park, the bid for the skatepark will be opened to contractors this fall (in January, DCR promised it would go to bid last winter), and construction on the skatepark itself is slated to start by the end of the calendar year. The delay, according to Gedeon, was caused by the Mass Department of Transportation, which supervises the Amtrak rail that runs below the length of the Southwest Corridor, and which stands to be impacted from any construction projects that occur above the tunnel. The project’s financial backing has also been an issue. Apparently, the cost of construction will exceed the $75,000 that was originally allocated for the park’s renovation.
“I’ve been trying for two years to get this happening,” Gedeon said. “We’ve been talking about this. We had to get the money together—the funding.”
Although this news from the DCR is promising, local residents are not convinced.
“It seems very suspicious to me,” reported one park volunteer who wished to remain unnamed. “The park has been lying here in this condition for years, and only now that this article is being written does the DCR decide to do something about it.”