Andy Rodriguez vividly remembers going on school trips to the Ford manufacturing plant as a child in St. Paul.
“It was just a big concrete structure of epic proportions,” recalls Rodriguez, now the city’s director of parks and recreation.
“There weren’t really any trees, there was no public access, there were no public amenities – so this neighborhood along the river had a concrete slab,” he said. recalls Melanie McMahon, the mayor’s executive project manager for the redevelopment.
Earlier this month, the city opened the first of four public parks carved into the once concrete landscape of St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood. A second park is set to open as part of the 122-acre mixed-use Highland Bridge redevelopment later this summer.
The first, named Gateway Park, features a linear skatepark where skaters can try out their moves on a trail-style path dotted with ramps, rails, and other structures, including a concrete bowl for more experienced skaters.
“The timing of this park opening really fits with the interest in skateboarding in general right now,” Rodriguez said. “Couldn’t have been a better time.”
The park is open to skaters of all ages and skill levels and features new tree-lined walking paths along the skate path. Over 1,000 trees are expected to be planted throughout the entire Highland Bridge redevelopment.
“The city and the neighborhood can reconnect to the river in ways that we just haven’t been able to before,” McMahon said.
Rodriguez said sand volleyball courts, outdoor fitness equipment, a community garden and the city’s first dedicated pickleball courts are some of the other amenities in store to complement the skate park.
Uŋči Makţa Park at the south end of the redevelopment will open later this summer.