Years of work caught air Thursday as hundreds of skateboarders rolled in for opening day at Spring Skatepark, a football-field-sized concrete jungle dotted with bowls and gnarly obstacles, crowned by a 360-degree pipe.
The sprawling park, the largest in North America, emulates an urban environment with its stairs, handrails and benches. Included in the design are a 12-foot vertical ramp, a 10-foot-deep bowl, a Texas-shaped bowl and a "lazy river"-style pathway accessible to even the most novice skateboarders. Shredders as young as 6 showed up for the opening.
"We're going to draw skateboarders from all over the world," predicted Sally Bradford, executive director of the Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority, as she watched a young skateboarder slide his deck along a low-slung rail. "It absolutely is a huge amenity for the city. We now have two world-class skate parks just 25 miles apart. The parks are meant to work together."
With its 78,000 square feet of skate surface, the admission-free Spring Skatepark on Kuykendahl is one of the largest in the world. It was designed by Grindline, the Seattle firm that also designed the 25,000-square-foot Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark just west of downtown Houston.
The $6.5 million Greenspoint project, which includes the adjacent Dylan's Park with its playground for special needs children, has been in development since 2009.
"Houston now is Skateboard City, Texas," skateboard supporter and investment banker Barry Blumenthal said. The Greenspoint and Jamail parks "represent the equivalent for skate tourists of Vail and Beaver Creek for snowboarders and skiers."
'Great entry to sports'
The Jamail park opened six years ago along the banks of Buffalo Bayou, boasting the world's then-largest "cradle," a concrete half-dome with a 20-foot diameter. The park was a key element of the city's bid for the 2014 Summer X Games sponsored by ESPN. Although Houston was a finalist, it lost out to Austin.
"This park is going to change the way people look at Houston," said Blumental, who plans to skate the Greenspoint-area park Saturday. A boarder since the age of 10, Blumenthal predicts the park will be a boost for tourism, as well as a spark for neighborhood development.
"Skateboarding is a great entry to a lifetime of sports," Blumenthal said. "The barriers are so low. All you need is a board and a helmet, and neither have to be new or expensive. Skateboarding is a game-changer for at-risk kids. It gets them off the streets. This is really cool. People will come from all over."
The park already has lured at least one person to Houston.
Doug Lejeune, 44, said he recently moved to Houston from tiny Elizabeth, La., so that he could skate at the new park daily. His new home is just blocks from the park.
"You can sit on the couch or you can live your life," said Lejeune, a house painter. "This is an amazing place to skate. It's where I want to be."
The genesis of the park was a discussion with students at nearby Aldine High School. The redevelopment group was looking to fill a recreational void in the area.
"I asked, "If we could build something for you, what would you want?' " Bradford said. "I was surprised. The overwhelming response was the need for a skatepark."
The Greater Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority owns and operates the park. Its creation was approved by the Houston City Council, which authorizes all expenditures of the Greenspoint Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.
The 10-acre island sits amid vacant lots and scattered businesses - a gas station, drugstore and doughnut shop - off Interstate 45, north of Greenspoint Mall.
The park's first morning attracted as many veteran boarders as young people. Within the first hour, more than 100 skaters were spread over the park and by midday more than 400 skateboarders had checked in.
After giving the feature a thumbs up, Peterson said, "The park is enormous. There's so much to try."
Moses Garza, 47, was one of the first to skate a pool-style bowl at the park's north corner.
"This is awesome," he said. "It's something Houston definitely needed."
Catching his breath after a run, Garza said he was trying to ride every feature before "I tire out."
Chad Fesler, 43, said he was surprised at the challenge of some of the park's features.
"There are some small things to skate," he said, "but some of these are very intimidating. I didn't expect that."
While skateboarders tested their new playground, about a dozen protesters who object to the park's ban on bicycles gathered outside its gates.
Bradford said the new space was designed strictly with skateboarders in mind. "We have to follow the city rules, and the city bans bikes from its skateparks," she said.
All is not lost for the bikers, however. The Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority already is in discussions about constructing an adjacent 15-acre bike-centric park, Bradford said.
"We want to work with the bikers. We want their help in designing a premier bike park."