The construction fences came down at Sul Ross Park on Friday, opening it to the public just in time for a National Go Skateboarding Day event on Saturday.
Rain delays and freshly planted grass put in doubt the scheduled reopening this weekend for the $2.1 million park at 1301 Barnard Ave., which has an extensive in-ground concrete skate course as its centerpiece.
But Barsh Construction officials reached an agreement Friday with the city and skateboarding advocates to fence off the grass and open the park in time for Saturday’s event by the nonprofit Skate 254.
“I’ve waited seven years for this,” said Skate 254 founder Blake Yowell, who became the new park’s first legal skater Friday afternoon.
Yowell had made alternative arrangements for the skateboarding day event at spots downtown and at his Gnarly’s Skate Shop but continued to push for the park as a venue. He was scurrying to get the word out on social media Friday about the venue change.
“If anybody wants to come experience the sport, they can see what a real-life concrete skate park can do for the community,” Yowell said.
He expects at least 100 people at the event, and he’s trying to get some professional skaters to come down on short notice to do some demonstrations. The event will start at 4 p.m. with free skating, followed by street competitions at 6 p.m. and bowl competitions at 7 p.m.
Aided by a $1.7 million state grant, city officials have redeveloped the old Charlie McCleary Tennis Center, which has featured a skate course since 2007. The project replaces aging metal skate equipment and cracked concrete with new concrete bowls, ramps and rails suitable for more advanced competition.
But the park will appeal to all ages and types of people, not just skaters, parks planner Tom Balk said.
The project includes a 1,500-square-foot pavilion, basketball and tennis courts, a playground, walkways, restrooms and large areas of grass and trees. Balk said the city has created a “marquee” park that should give people another reason to come downtown.
“The skate park is the most talked-about feature,” Balk said. “But we essentially took an entirely paved, neglected area and some adjacent properties and streets and made them into a green space.”
The project also made safety improvements to parking and pedestrian access around the adjacent Sul Ross Senior Center, and Balk said he expects senior citizens will enjoy using the park.
Balk said the pavilion and entire park will be available for event rentals, including but not limited to skating events.
Yowell said he expects to be involved in 10 to 12 events a year at the skate park, including regional competitions, a summer camp and demonstrations by nationally known skaters.
Yowell led skaters a decade ago in rallying city support for a skate park at the old McCleary Tennis Center after the demise of a small course at Jaycee Park. He has been involved in shaping the design for the new skate course and has organized skating events at his shop and at other locations during the two-year redevelopment project.
Yowell told friends years ago that he wanted to see an in-ground skating complex in Waco before he was 30, and he turns 30 this year. Yowell said the skating culture in Waco has continued to grow even while the skate park was closed.
“It’s going to explode now,” he said.