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Gary-New Duluth skate park nears funding goal

Supporters hope to use county pandemic-relief funds as a local match to leverage additional grant dollars.

Partly built skate park.
Snow lies on the partly completed Gary-New Duluth skate park Tuesday. Funding to complete the long-awaited $1.4 million park is falling into place.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The prospects of a new state-of-the art skate park opening in Gary-New Duluth next year continue to brighten as the city accepted $250,000 worth of federal COVID-19 relief funding from St. Louis County last week.

The St. Louis County Board of Commissioners approved support for the project back in April , but the funds from the American Rescue Plan Act have just begun to flow.

A resolution recently passed by the Duluth City Council said: “In partnership with the GND Development Alliance, the city intends to seek additional competitive grant funds for the skate park construction, and the funds from St. Louis County will serve as important local match dollars.”

Mark Boben, a GND Development Alliance board member, said the $1.4 million project is now only about $250,000 shy of being fully funded and confirmed additional grant applications are in the works.

“So, we’re absolutely using that and other grants and fundraising that we’re in the process of doing to hopefully get us over the hump and complete this skate park next year,” he said.

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Partly built skate park.
Traffic on Commonwealth Avenue passes the Gary-New Duluth skate park.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Construction of the skate park at the Gary-New Duluth Rec Center next door to Stowe Elementary School, off Commonwealth Avenue, began in 2019, with dirt and drainage work and it has continued with walls and site preparations.

“Now we have some foundation work we still need to do. But the reality is, it’s about raising the money,” said Boben, noting that inflation has further complicated matters.

“Costs are kind of a moving target. So, what we want to do is raise enough funds to have a sufficient contingency to cover the unknowns. That’s just good project management, no matter what you’re building,” he said.

In October, the City Council agreed to channel $40,000 from local tourism tax collections into the project .

“We certainly need more funding," Boben said. "We need to be successful with the grant applications we’re submitting. And we need the public to step up and help us out with some donations.”

The park, revitalized by skateboarders, was located under the U.S. Highway 53 overpass for nearly 20 years.

The ambitious plans for the skate park have required a prolonged effort.

Yet, Boben said, “I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll make it next year. We’re getting close.”

He noted that the GND Rec Center recently received a $50,000 donation from Maurices and the board decided to name the center’s sport court after the retail chain, in recognition of the generous gift.

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“Concrete skate parks are expensive. No doubt. But there’s going to be nothing like this north of the Twin Cities. This will be a regional draw when we’re done with it,” Boben said.

As such, he said using tourism tax proceeds to support the skate park makes perfect sense.

This half-percent increase will bring Hermantown's sales tax equal to Duluth's sales tax.

“Skateboarders are like snowboarders. They’ll drive all over the country to go snowboarding. Skateboarders are the same,” Boben said. The park was designed by nationally recognized skate park designer Mark Leski, aka "the wizard" in skateboard circles.

He expects the skate park will appeal to skateboarders of all ages, noting that Tony Hawk, one of the figures who did the most to popularize the sport, is still actively involved at age 54.

Architectural rendering of a skate park.
An architectural rendering shows the skate park under construction at the Gary-New Duluth Recreation Area.
Contributed / Gary-New Duluth Development Alliance

Boben noted that skateboarding has relatively few barriers to entry, and many people get their start on inexpensive hand-me-down boards. He said the skate park will charge no fees, will be lighted and will have cameras to ensure it remains a safe environment. It’s also located on a bus line, providing affordable and convenient access for people from throughout the community.

Even residents of the Heritage Apartments senior housing development across the street are abuzz about the project, excited by the prospect of seeing more young people actively enjoying the park, according to Boben.

“They want to come and watch all the fun,” he said.

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Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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