One of the driving concepts for Bethlehem’s first skatepark when we thought about the layout was “how do we allow as many people to use the park at one time?” This would be the only skatepark in Bethlehem and the only concrete skatepark in the Lehigh Valley plus with a large skate and BMX scene- we knew it would be crowded. There was no escaping that. Most traditional skateparks built with a lot of jump ramps, quarterpipes, bowled corners and pyramids- although fun, only accommodate a few skaters at a time with the amount of speed and flow someone can get.
Once we realized that we were going to have a very narrow but long space to design the skatepark within, it was only natural for our skateboard design team to gravitate to the skateplaza style layout. Understand, no BMXer’s who were involved with the design process upwards of 10 years ago chose to stay and work on the project. After years of not seeing much progress on the skatepark and having 2 failed attempts in Bethlehem, the design team that stayed on was myself, Erich Hornung and Chad Shaner. BMXer’s did not come back into the picture until there was talks of opening Phase 1 and by then, the design was complete.
The skateplaza style layout is also what accommodated for many users at one time. We were very inspired by the many sessions skaters and BMXer’s shared in the old Liberty High School courtyard that was filled with ledges, steps and other plaza style obstacles. Everyone was able to ride without the risk of slamming into each other because we all rode in a way we could easily maneuver around each other.
The street-style layout was also something that is not available readily in the skateparks within a day’s drive of Bethlehem. I love skating bowls but I can drive an hour outside of the 610 and hit up several great transition style skateparks. We wanted something that would set Bethlehem apart. (Changes to the design in the rendering were made for cost)
What you may not know is what we’re opening in Phase 2 was originally part of Phase 1 but funds were short and we wanted to open something instead of waiting- which is why Phase 1 opened as it was two years ago. It was never designed to stand alone but I’m glad we’ve all made it work over the last 2 years enjoying it as a community of skaters and BMXers. The addition of Phase 2 gives us some new technical, more novice and much more advanced obstacles along with some much needed open space to give those who would rather play Games’s of S.K.A.T.E. a place to congregate instead of being in the way of the obstacles that were meant to flow together in Phase 1.
Starting with the obstacles closest to Phase 1, which the design team dubbed W-5- this is the obstacle that ALMOST wasn’t added to the construction plans earlier in 2011 because of the lack of funding. But with the boost in benefit brick sales from the community and some extra money the Parks Department was able to raise instead of a flat slab of cement we have an obstacle that continues the flow of the plaza.
The embankments maintain flow, the smaller ledges offer obstacles for our more beginner and intermediate skaters and if you can get your lines right and feet quick enough- some very technical sections as well. I’m very happy this obstacles was able to be included.
The daunting 10-set was referred to the design team as W-6. This is to be the centerpiece of the skateplaza and a representation of how far we’ve gone to make sure all those types of obstacles you can’t skate on the street are available in the skateplaza down to a LEGIT 10-stair rail to is replicated after NYC’s Brooklyn Banks 10 with a rail off the side and a rail down the middle. To maintain the flow of the plaza, we added a euro bank on the far side instead.
Up top you’ll find was additional obstacles like rainbow rail, round rail up against the wall leading to a small double set, kinked ledge and a kinked rail that can be skated in several ways giving all types of skill levels an option.
The side of W-6 offers a ledge that will ultimately be covered by the canopy going in in the Spring as well as vert wall that provides more flow to the plaza but mainly as we expand into Phase 3- which I’ll address later. With the narrowness of the skateplaza the idea wasn’t to create an obstacle you hit straight on but in the same back and forth flow the plaza already has- thus the hip which can send you into high wallrides or even into grinds if you got it like Grant Taylor.
The big open space on the side of W-6 was envisioned to a congregating area for contest, product tosses or concerts. It also gives us the open space for kids who want to just practice their kickflips a place to be without being in the way- or in a space open enough someone flowing from end to end could easily dodge them.
The area’s in Phase 1 most people sit on or crowd in front of in Phase 1 will now change with the addition of Phase 2- especially when W-7, the “grassy knoll” area is completed in the Spring. I’ve read complaints that we’re taking up space with a grass and tree area in Phase 2 but I’m sure those same people will be enjoying the shade on a hot Summer day next year. This area will be surrounded by low skateable I-beams and a “pump bump” that you can use to flow into the future Phase 3 or grind the top of the Bethlehem Skateplaza being added in in the Spring.
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I think the biggest concern people will have when the skate Phase 2 is how abruptly it stops at the fence. This is all because of funding. The City of Bethlehem built AS MUCH of Phase 2 as we could. Homebase is in the process of talking to the Parks Department about purchasing the cement for another 10-20 feet of cement and possibly fundraising for some of the obstacles in the closest part of Phase 3 too. Nothing is set in stone yet but my goal will be to see a little more get built come the Spring time.
So speaking of Phase 3: IT’S ALL ABOUT FUNDING. A state funded organization called The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has donated the majority of the 1 million+ dollars the skateplaza costs to this point. They fund public spaces like the skateplaza and the Greenway and they ABSOLUTELY LOVE what the skateplaza has done for the community here. We hope to apply and receive more grant dollars from them in 2013/14 but it’s uncertain. This is why it’s essential we as a skate and BMX community buy the $50 benefit bricks, continuing out own grass roots fundraising efforts whether it’s concerts, art shows or buying benefit clothing like the Vans x Homebase Benefit Tee. All those “drops in the bucket” help one way or another.
Keeping the skateplaza a positive place for the community to gather is also going to be essential to see more growth- I know we all want to get to the bowls. We say it all the time but the story doesn’t change: Keep the fighting, the weed, the alcohol and all the nonsense out of the plaza. Have fun, loo out for each other and respect the skateplaza.
I grew up in a time where skaters and BMXers were stereotyped as “bad kids” and we had no where to go. Don’t be that asshole who fulfills that stereotype now that we have a place to go. We’re so lucky to have the support of our City and community. Ask any kid that’s driving an hour or more just to skate there with you that doessn’t have a free park to skate.
Come to the skateplaza and have fun- that’s what it’s all about.