HAMMOND — The city’s newest skate park hasn’t even had its grand opening yet, but it’s already being praised as potentially one of the top premier spots within a 50-mile radius.
“We’re already getting people from all over, from Waukegan, Algonquin, from Michigan … . The other day, when we finished our (competition) event in Highland, we had the after-party in Hammond. And just last weekend, we had some people from Lake Bluff come out. People are traveling for this spot,” said Jeff Zielinski, a skateboarder from Calumet City.
Zielinski and fellow local skateboarders who frequent the Region Rat Skate Shop played a role with early ideas in conversations with the design and construction firm the city of Hammond hired.
Spohn Ranch is a highly regarded construction firm based out of Los Angeles that specializes in skate parks. The company recently designed and constructed the skate park in Highland, too.
A ribbon-cutting is slated for 3:30 p.m. Thursday with professional skateboarders Tom Asta and Tom Remillard as special guests.
‘Something for everyone’
According to Spohn Ranch, the new Hessville skate park features both street and transition elements, and wrap-around internal landscape areas, creating interesting lines. It’s a stark contrast with Hammond’s original skate park, which had a “mundane back-and-forth flow,” the company said.
The company said the west end of the Hessville Park Skatepark is anchored by a beginner transition section — “an inviting space for riders not yet comfortable testing their skills in the ‘Krush bowl’ replica.”
Zielinski said they made it a point to design the Hessville skate park so that it offers space for skateboarders to test out varying skills and styles.
“The street plaza style is the most popular right now, but we’re seeing it trend more towards the hybrid type with transition elements and street elements combined. That’s the future of skateboarding. We want to position Hammond to serve not only the trends right now, but in the future,” Zielinski said.
Zielinski tested out some tricks at the park Wednesday with two young skateboarders he mentors: Mason Alm and Mason Grossmann, both 14, of Crown Point.
There, Zielinski landed a layback invert on a quarter pipe uniquely designed in the shape of the letter H for Hammond and Hessville. He said the unique feature makes for a technically difficult obstacle.
Alm and Grossmann said it’s already becoming their favorite skate park in the Region.
“This park has something for everyone. Beginners can just hop right in and learn,” Alm said.
Far from beginners, Grossmann and Alm cruised their way across the 2,500-square-foot park Wednesday, landing several tricks, including a "melon grab" over a spine ramp and "frontside air" on a quarter pipe.
The new skate park also features a concrete replica of the “Krush bowl” that pays homage to the indoor skate park in Tinley Park that shut down in 2013.
Zielinski said he asked Spohn Ranch’s designers to incorporate the concrete bowl into the one at Hessville Park because many skateboarders in the area have a lot of nostalgia for the Tinley Park spot. With the "Krush bowl" replica in Hammond, he said he already has seen skateboarders scoping out the Hessville spot.
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“People still remember it. They all talk about it. It was the best bowl that everyone enjoyed and loved,” Zielinski said.
Vince Onel, a lead Spohn Ranch designer, said when Zielinski supplied measurements and pointed out the opportunity they had re-creating the “Krush bowl” design, they were on board.
“We said, ‘Absolutely, we can do that,’” he said.
Onel said Spohn Ranch is well regarded by the skateboarder community, and he and his team took suggestions from local skateboarders like Zielinski and the folks at the popular Region Rat Skate Shop seriously.
“Skateboarders, they know us, and they know our firm and our work. By the time I started talking to folks and they found out we were going to be involved, I think they thought it was well worth the upgrade,” he said.
‘Make a statement’
Mark Heintz, administrator for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said about $425,000 of Hessville Park’s $3 million improvements budget went to design and construction of the 2,500-square-foot skate park.
He said Mayor Thomas McDermott wanted to “make a statement” with the design and attract skateboarders from outside the immediate Region, just as they are doing with local sports teams with the new Sportsplex on Indianapolis Boulevard.
“We wanted to do this the right way, to be a leader in Indiana and the Midwest and say, ‘Hey, this is for everybody.’ This park was chosen because of its proximity to the Borman Expressway. It will bring in people. And, for us, as a city, is has recreational value," Heintz said.
Heintz said he is appreciative of Zielinski and the local skateboarders who have donated to his department in recent years to maintain and repair the city’s skate parks. Zielinski founded Driftwood Collective, a nonprofit in 2015, for that purpose, with money collected during competition events going to park maintenance.
Design was key
Zielinski said it was important to the local skate shop and the skateboarders in the area that Spohn Ranch not duplicate the features found at the new skate park in Highland.
Rather, they wanted to two parks to complement each other. The park in Highland is more a street style plaza, whereas Hammond offers transitional and bowl elements, too.
“Every skate park design has to keep in mind other skate parks in the Region. Each has to offer something different, so that everyone is traveling to every community,” Zielinski said.
Onel said he loved that both projects were so close together.
“It gave us some creative freedom to complement each other now. With both projects being so close together, it made us be more creative, and we ultimately created something in Hammond that hadn’t been done in the area,” he said.
The city’s ribbon-cutting is set for 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Hessville Park at 173rd Street and Kennedy Avenue. The event will feature two pro skateboarders, demonstrations and product giveaways, according to the city.
The Driftwood Collective nonprofit is hosting an Illiana Skateboard Circuit competition on Saturday at the skate park. Warm-ups start at 11 a.m., and the competition kicks off at noon. Families are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and watch the competition unfold.