Barry Blumenthal showed up to the Jamail Skatepark this morning before it was even open, long-handled squeegee in hand. Rains the night before had left the park with a few spots of standing water in its newly resurfaced bowls, and you can't skate wet concrete (it's one of the strictly-enforced rules at Jamail, along with mandatory helmets). But Blumenthal and a handful of other industrious skaters, bearing brooms to push the water into drains, wanted to make sure the park was skate-ready for the grand reopening today at 9 a.m.
"It’s always nice to have improvements, but we didn’t anticipate being closed this long," chuckled Blumenthal, one of the co-founders of P.U.S.H. The organization, short for Public Use Skateparks for Houston, helped facilitate the fundraising for the Jamail Skatepark—a total of $2.7 million, the largest private donation ever raised for a public skatepark in the United States. First opened in 2008, the skatepark was in need of renovations by 2016. It closed last April; anxious skaters across Houston awaited its reopening for nearly 12 months.
This morning, those renovations were finally unveiled, including a new terraced seating area that was once just a grassy slope. On the side of the park nearest Buffalo Bayou, shaded seating areas are still being fabricated and will be installed soon, just in time for the warm summer to come.
"The Jamail family, who gave the funding for the park itself, also gave funding for the renovations," said Beth White, president and CEO of Houston Parks Board, who was on hand this morning along with her colleagues from the Houston Parks and Recreation Department to witness the park's second debut. With that added money, White said, "we were able to increase the scope and have all of the bowls resurfaced, so it should be a really great experience for the skaters."
In amongst the grand-scale projects are smaller, more intimate pieces, such as the relocated memorial bench given in honor of Morgan Moss, an avid skateboarder and photographer whose parents created the Morgan Moss Foundation following his death in 2011. The bright green bench bearing Moss's name now has an even better view of the big bowl, surrounded on either side by rose bushes planted by his mother.
"The thing I love about that story is the philanthropy in this city, both large and small," said White. "It's very personal but also very civic-minded. It really is how we’re able to do the work."
Before long, the squeegees and brooms had managed to dry out both the kidney-shaped Lee's Bowl and the big central bowl with an intimidating cradle. Blumenthal dropped into Lee's Bowl for the maiden run, his first at Jamail in nearly a year. After a few laps around the edges, he popped back up, board in hand and a grin on his face.
"It’s fun—that’s what skateboarding is, it’s fun," Blumenthal said. "Even at 52, you feel like 15 when you drop in."