Detroit skatepark has its ‘last rites’
Detroit — It soon will be condos. And retail. And an acre will be green space.
What it will no longer be is a community center or the skatepark it has become since August 2014.
This week, Mayor Mike Duggan announced a $77 million redevelopment of the site where the Wigle Recreation Center, at Selden and the John C. Lodge Service Drive in Midtown, once stood. Some 8,000 square feet of retail space and 325 condos and rental units, along with the acre of green space, will comprise the Midtown West development. Crews are expected to break ground in fall 2018.
The redevelopment does not come as a shock, said Derrick Dykas, 32, founder of Community Push, the nonprofit that has turned a patch of cement behind the old center into a skatepark. The description of the area as vacant, though, does bother him.
“That’s hurtful,” Dykas said.
Dykas, recalled days when children would play in one portion of the field and “people would be shooting up” feet away. It’s not like that anymore.
Since Dykas approached city officials three years ago with a plan to turn the park into a safe community space with a skatepark, he and a team of fellow skaters and volunteers have transformed the space into what he calls “the home of skateboarding” in the Motor City. Dykas knew from the start that Community Push’s time in the space would be limited; he has a tattoo with a headstone with “2014-2014” as the dates, anticipating only a short stay in Midtown.
“We’ve been on borrowed time since day one,” Dykas admits. Work on the space started in August 2014; by that October, Dykas figured, they’d be displaced — the Wigle occupies a large vacant field adjacent to the freeway to the west and a few blocks from Woodward to the east — but years passed and the call never came.
Until now. Community Push administered its ‘last rites’ Sunday.
That was the plan, at least, until temperatures fell and the rain started pouring. The food trucks planned to punctuate the celebration of what the space became and what Community Push would accomplish were put on hold as a small group of people joined the celebration. A decorative casket was on display to symbolize the closing of the skatepark
If it had been 75 degrees and sunny, Dykas says, there probably would have been 100 people out boarding. Instead, at one point, more than 90 minutes in, all 25 or so who’d come out were huddled under two tents, avoiding the elements.
“Redevelopment doesn’t mean moving people out, it means taking care of people here and bringing people in to join them,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said this week at the press conference announcing the project.
But in the case of Community Push, moving out is exactly what will happen.Community Push will move to the auditorium at the former Hutchins Middle School, Dykas said.
That will make its events weather-proof in the future.
And for those who prefer skateboarding outdoors, the redevelopment of Riverside Park, on Detroit’s western riverfront, will include a skatepark. It’s an effort Dykas was actively involved in, he said, in terms of design and getting input from the community.
Still, for kids in the Midtown neighborhood who have come to entertain themselves at the park, such as 10-year-old Amir Robinson, the move comes as sad news.
“Are you going to tear this down?” Amir asked a visitor to the skatepark on Sunday.
If it weren’t for the park, Amir said, he might be watching television and hanging out at home. Instead, he practiced moves on his board and borrowed one woman’s speed board for a spin because it looked interesting, undeterred by the uncooperative weather.
Asked how he felt about the space being redeveloped, Amir said “very mad, angry.”
Amir said he’s looking forward to the skatepark at Riverside Park but wasn’t sure he’d be able to visit as often.
It wasn’t just Midtown residents who showed up. Corey Moorish, 26, came from Oscoda. It was his second time making the trip.
“I had seen (posts) on Instagram about it, and asked (Alex Donnelly of Ortonville), ‘is this really a thing?’” Moorish said.
It was, Donnelly said, and they visited together. Its condition a year-and-a-half ago was “decrepit,” Moorish said.
This time, Donnelly tagged Moorish in a Facebook post about ‘The Wig,’ as users call it, closing.
In the time between his first and second visits, Moorish said he saw a “massive change” in the quality of the park. The park is not only safer and cleaner, it offers more options for moves.
Unlike his first trip, “it’s skateable again,” Moorish said.
Skateable, except for the rain.