Mark and Victor of Skate Park
By Forrest Cook
Citizens of Grand Prairie have long-since become accustomed to the retort, “The place where all the warehouses are?” when answering the question as to place of residence. With its stretch of salvage yards, warehouses, and what-just-forty-years-ago was mostly empty space lending itself to that viewpoint- more recently dubbed as an extension of Oak Cliff- the everchanging landscape of this small Dallas suburb has been marketing itself extensively since the add-on construction of HW 161 and the George Bush Tollway which now intersect the city. This highway project has ushered in new interest groups that presumably see the town’s potential. Among them, IKEA and the Epic Water Park facility have been paving the way for commercial gentrification projects.
But what about the old dreams of the city? Blessed but somehow cursed to be nestled within one of the largest metroplexes in the nation, Dallas otherwise steals all the credit for everything. These are small town woes, and Grand Prairie has been playing the longshot, like putting down your last ten-spot on an underdog pony.
The city’s 1992 gamble on building a horse-track at Lone Star Park has been duly successful, and fortunately for extreme-sports enthusiasts, as crazy as it sounds, the track-runners’ aspirations led them to build a skate/BMX facility right there on the property.
Originally called GPX – “with horse track guys in bright yellow polos running the counter… Unfortunately, it definitely didn’t align well with a lot of people’s vision of a skatepark experience,” skatepark GM and lord commander of Action Park Alliance day-to-day operations, Victor Nelson imparts.
Victor has been working his way up within the company since 2007, and now enjoys a sort-of jack-of-all-trades position including managerial responsibilities- as well as coordinating events, sales, and marketing opportunities (both in Grand Prairie, and at APA’s three California locations)- website maintenance, building ramps, DJing, announcing the contests, and running the online-store. He also has the unique perspective of “being born and raised here, literally right down the street, off of Beltline.” He goes on, “When the place first opened, it was such a cool, unique thing because skateparks back then weren’t as hot of a commodity as they are now. Unfortunately, the hype kind of died off,” and once that happened, Lonestar found themselves in an unprofitable situation where they could no longer afford to maintain the facility. They relinquished control to the city (to no avail for the struggling skatepark) and shortly afterwards the near $1.2 million project that was GPX had become a ghost-town.
“To be successful in the skateboarding/action sports industry you have to be extremely savvy,” says Victor, who analyzing the decline, blames “an essence of non-industry management structure.” This can be seen throughout the early years of the property. “
“For [GPX] to lose its steam and become worthless in less than five years was a huge sting, I think, for a lot of people.”
Fortunately, in 2006, Mark Laue, with a background in private skatepark ownership along the West Coast, serendipitously stumbled across a newspaper article about the at-that-time-defunct GP skatepark, which sparked in him interest enough to pack his bags, and head east from California to make his new bed under the big blue skies of Texas. After making a connection with Rick Herold and Danny Boykin of the Grand Prairie Parks and Recreation Department, “the stars aligned. It became like one of those meant-to-be scenarios… and [the park] would become an APA facility.”
Laue had only recently teamed with the owners of skatepark design company, Spohn Ranch to create the “municipal skatepark management company”, Action Park Alliance, of which he is the executive director. The initial goals of the partnership were making city contacts and building community skateparks. They estimated that responsible, industry-insider management was the key principle in being successful, and the APA platform was born.
Action Park Alliance has a little mantra, according to Victor. “APA is committed to creating responsible action sports facilities through risk management, programing, and youth development… When you think about a rec center or a YMCA,” he says “these are staples in any community. In a way, we try to replicate that but in an atmosphere that caters to action sports.” Since APA’s acquisition of the formerly-denoted GPX, the park has seen substantial growth right alongside the sport of skateboarding, itself, which is now one of the fastest growing sports in the world. “If you want to call it a sport,” jokes Victor who ignores the suggestion that it’s instead the world’s fastest growing crime.
With new ownership of the property came a fresh outlook as to how it should be managed. Gone were the days of “non-industry management structure” that had been plaguing the park since its inauguration. APA had the task of refurbishing the existing ramps to create a more user-friendly “street course” to accommodate for the popularity-explosion of street skating, as before the park had been primarily geared towards transitional riding. i.e. ramps, vert
They overhauled the shop. “Mark and I had often talked about creating a brand that skateboarders could really connect with. Diehard support as it goes with skateboarders… they want to be down with the shop.” Victor recounts bringing on Donny Smith, owner and operator of Rhythm Skate Shop which had previously opened in Watauga. “The shop essentially became a natural transition when Donny started working here. It didn’t make sense to have this overhead in Watauga that wasn’t generating revenue. So, we just brought the inventory here with the showcases and adopted the skate team. From that point on, Rhythm Skate Shop became our retail shop here.”
In case you haven’t heard, the Rhythm Skate-team slays. After dropping the local-to-Dallas video, “Dream” in 2014, they were invited to the “Younited Nations Contest” with The Berrics, which is kind of a big deal in the skateboarding world. They recently won the “Connect the Dots Contest” for King Shit Magazine in the category of “International, Best Skating” for their video submission, and “the champion of Dallas skateboarding,” Ke’chaud Johnson turned pro for Darkstar Skateboards last year. “He’s travelling the world, skating contests and just making it happen. He still gives me a call when he needs help with flights or contest entries. You’ll see him skating contests with that ‘Rhythm’ shirt on, or whatever,” laughs Victor.
With the establishment of Rhythm Skate Shop and the skate team, the capricious facility was finally on its way to becoming a skatepark-user haven, with a “street course”, under the hanger, for skateboarders, as well as some of the older transitory ramps that appeal more to a biking, in-line skating, and scooter crowd. (ramps whose surfaces had been previously graced by skating legends like Tony Alva, and Stacey Peralta in the early-hype days of the skatepark, and names like Eddie Guerra and Mike McGill, since then.)
Skate Park Crew with Lil’ Wayne
“I’ve met Lil’ Wayne!” Victor remembers enthusiastically that the rap-star was pretty impressed with the hanger-area.
There was only one problem in the mix. Competition, and worse. Their competition was free.
“In the last five or six years the trend of cities in the DFW area, that are finally realizing that they need a skatepark, has just exploded. In recent years, we’ve had about ten phenomenally-built, state-of-the-art skateparks being built all within thirty minutes of each other. It is really tough for us to compete with free, newer, nicer concrete skateparks.”
Mark Laue had a solution. He met with the city, who, understood the dilemma and that the element of mentorship in the skate community brought on by the APA team was perhaps a good thing, and they offered their support. Laue had the foresight to realize that settling for new ramps in the competitive atmosphere that is the DFW skate scene just wasn’t going to be enough. “The idea came up that we were going to start adding in BMX dirt jumps and features that catered more towards a BMX/mountain bike crowd.
Tapping into more of a fitness-oriented or training crowd- people that really wanted to take their riding or skating to the next level- we added in the gym/fitness pavilion. We added the foam pit. We saw an overwhelming response for having these new features.”
Walking along side these new renovations to the park, it is really possible to imagine something spectacular unfolding, as mounds of dirt rise overhead screaming, “Fun! Fun!”- but also reminding you to get current on your insurance payments. On a crowded day, with the click-clacking of the ramps, there are just smiles and scrapped knees- the way any good skatepark should be- with a creamy side of broken bones in the early evening.
“You’ve got to think. There are a lot of people out there that can’t be physically active. They only have so much time that they can dedicate to doing something fun or they just can’t risk getting hurt. There is a substantial hobby-enthusiast crowd in DFW, and we recently added an R/C track… which has been a really unique aspect to the facility where people can tap into doing something fun and being in a fun atmosphere. We’ve seen a great response and now we want to add in additional features that would cater more to that. An R/C drift track would definitely align more with our car show crowd.”
APA is a skatepark in Grand Prairie that seems out to make a statement, and push the limits on what it means to be a community organizer. From BMX contests to monthly car shows which started as an “industry-relevant mixer” with the question, “Hey, how can we make our Monday nights here at the skatepark more lively?” and resulted in an overwhelming response from the DFW car-enthusiast scene. It went from sixty cars the first week to 500 one unbelievable night, and according to Victor, “Mark said, ‘Pump the breaks! This is getting big and if we don’t keep this structured properly, it could become a problem.” “Mondays Don’t Suck” has grown extensively since, and is now a more structured car-show style event with a
dedicated following and support.
Alliance is also host to the WCMX championships, which is, for lack of a better word, wheelchair skateboarding.
Wheels At Skate Park
“There’s no boundaries when it comes to action sports. People are taking these wheelchairs and going out there like you would on a bike or skateboard and it’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen,” recounts the GM. Alliance also work with non-profits like A-Skate, which teaches autism-friendly skate lessons, and focuses on building fundamentals and helping autistic children build the mental and physical balance they may need in life.
This philosophy of inclusivity to create an all-encompassing entertainment area brought on by the outside acquisition of Grand Prairie’s skatepark is clearly unifying more than just the skaters. “If it’s relevant to our facility, we want you to come out here and find that there is something for you.