- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - As a kid skating the streets of Des Moines’ south side, Kevin Jones never imagined there would one day be an Olympics-ready skatepark in the heart of his city.

Owner of Subsect Skateshop in the East Village, the hub of the local skateboarding scene, Jones said it’s now easy to envision all the potential ripple effects of an 88,000-square-foot skatepark - the country’s largest - opening next year in downtown Des Moines.

The Lauridsen Skatepark aims to cultivate regional and national attention, bringing more business and tourism dollars to the city. But more important to Jones, 42, it will be a safe and exciting alternative to skating the streets or the metro’s handful of small parks.

“The kids that are really into it, they know it’s just going to bring more stuff that will benefit them in a bigger context … and they know that with a big park like this, random pros are going to show up,” he told the Des Moines Register. “The scene is going to get bigger and better and they want to be a part of that.”

Leaders hope it will grow support for local skaters, attract pros to Iowa and eventually host local, regional and perhaps national and international competitions. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, postponed to next summer, will feature skateboarding for the first time with men’s and women’s street and park events - a sign of the sport’s rising popularity.

The roughly $7 million project, managed by the Polk County Board of Supervisors, has raised more than $6 million in private donations with more to come, according to Supervisor Angela Connolly, who co-chairs the skatepark’s fundraising committee. Nix and Virginia Lauridsen, the park’s namesakes, donated $1.6 million.

The city of Des Moines will pay to maintain the park, which sits on 5 acres of donated riverfront property near 2nd Avenue and School Street.

This year’s extreme weather events and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic delayed some work and supply chains, stretching the construction timeline by about six months. Weather permitting, contractors are working long hours at the park, hoping to finish pouring concrete this fall. Work on the surrounding grounds such as landscaping will be done next spring.

Connolly anticipates an early summer grand opening celebration that she and her team believe will mark the beginning of a new era in Iowa’s capital.

“It’s one of the largest (skateparks) in the world, and it’s meant to meet Olympic standards,” she said. “So, it’s a big deal - more than people even give it credit for, I think.”

Jones said he’s already seen a clear boost in interest among children and especially among girls. He hopes the Lauridsen Skatepark will also inspire adults to get back on their boards.

“People who’ve quit because regular adult life kicked in are finding themselves with a little more free time, and they’re getting excited about this,” a welcome lift in a pandemic-slowed business climate.

The shop expects a surge in customers and competitors once the park opens. He’s already seen a bump thanks to a new skatepark at American Legion Park in West Des Moines.

But growing the business is not Jones’ main concern, he said. He’s happiest while welcoming new people and supporting those who’ve already found a passion for the sport, Jones said.

Jones first came to Subsect as a teenager to hang out, then eventually started working the counter just like some of his own regulars do today. He was later tapped to run the shop, then bought it about five years ago.

“As the shop itself, we’ll do what we always do,” Jones said. “My role as kind of a dad figure is to keep supporting the skate scene,” which he describes as bigger and more vibrant than many expect out of a mid-sized Midwestern city, but small enough that it doesn’t breed competing cliques.

“Real skate shops and skaters are the worst business people,” he joked, “because we have the worst business model. It’s really like we’re just trying to pay the bills … but someone with more of a business mind would ask how they could make money off it. It’s nothing I’m really worried about. We’ve been around for a long, long time, and the industry has our back.”

Recently, more families are coming into Jones’ colorful store to buy “pre-built” boards, which cost about $100 and are good for true beginners. Once someone learns the basics and starts to develop preferences and goals, they should return to the shop for help building a custom board, he said.

Determined to bridge any gaps between skaters and the park, veteran Iowa political consultant Norm Sterzenbach co-founded the nonprofit Skate DSM two years ago along with Jones, Tom Miller, Brad Anderson, Jami Milne, and Tim Tucker.

The prime location is a major help to Skate DSM’s top mission of showcasing and building support for skateboarding and skateboarders - and a far cry from some cities that have built parks underneath overpasses or in sparse industrial areas, he said.

“Skateboarders have a reputation of being sort of counterculture, anti-social,” Sterzenbach said. “But there’s so much dedication and perseverance and talent in a sport like skateboarding, and we’re just excited to be able to show that off to the community … because the skatepark is front and center for everybody to see.”

The nonprofit will offer programming including skills clinics and day camps and is already coordinating with regional and national brands to bring competition events to Des Moines. It also plans to launch its own annual contest, likely each fall, with worthy prizes from local sponsors.

In addition to Lauridsen and the new park in West Des Moines, there are skateparks in Urbandale, Altoona, Ankeny and Indianola, as well as Des Moines’ east side. But what’s more notable, says Jones, is a bevy of relatively new parks spread out among Iowa’s smaller towns including Winterset, Oskaloosa and Grinnell.

As more Iowans participate, either as skaters or as spectators, Jones thinks the city he grew up cruising is finally cementing its place in the skateboarding world.

“You look back now, and you could kind of at a certain point could have seen coming this way. But the Olympics?” he said. “There are endless possibilities.”

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