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Wilkes-Barre skatepark construction expected to start in March

 The Wilkes-Barre skatepark, designed by national company Pivot Design, will set alongside Hollenback Park.
Tom Riese
The Wilkes-Barre skatepark, designed by national company Pivot Design, will be built alongside Hollenback Park.

Later this year, skateboarders and other alternative sports fans will have a new place to meet in Northeast Pennsylvania. Builders are expected to break ground at a skatepark in Wilkes-Barre in a matter of weeks, with the park’s completion slated for the end of summer.

Last September, the city approved $450,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the project. The all-concrete outdoor skatepark, designed by a national company called Pivot Custom, will sit alongside Hollenback Park in Wilkes-Barre and could be ready by this September.

Original plans to build on top of Hollenback’s dog park were scrapped when designers noticed concrete underground from a former city pool.

“If you take exit 2 off the Cross Valley Expressway, it drops you right in front of where the skatepark is going to be,” said Kevin Czekalski.

Czekalski, owner of Plains Bike Shop and skatepark committee member, said the design for the more than 15,000 square-foot park was just tweaked and approved last week. Czekalski said the groundbreaking ceremony could come as early as late March, which coincides with his shop’s 30th anniversary.

Though Czekalski said he was approached about the project by Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown just a few years ago, the idea to create a park has been around for much longer.

“If you want the actual timeline to getting a skatepark in Wyoming Valley? About 45 years,” Czekalski said.

He admits that there have been some options for riders over the years, but not like the new Wilkes-Barre design. According to Czekalski, the Wilkes-Barre park will be more like the all-concrete Bethlehem Skateplaza near Allentown compared to local options.

Other area cities have similar parks. In Scranton, skateboarders can use Jackson Street Skatepark, a free outdoor park with prefabricated ramps. In Taylor, there’s the indoor pay-per-day Underwood Skatepark, which is made of wood.

All wheels involved

The Wilkes-Barre Skatepark Committee is made up of more than just skateboarders. Czekalski, who sells scooters and skateboards in addition to bikes at his shop, said fans of other alternative sports have a stake in the project, too.

He told the city that it was important to approach all kinds of riders for feedback.

“We need one of each to represent each facet of the sport to get in here,” Czekalski said of the planning process. “BMX bikes are also going to be allowed in. It’s a total access park, everybody could use it: rollerblades, skateboards, scooters.”

Chris Koviack has been a BMX bike rider for more than 20 years. He said as soon as he was old enough to drive, he and his friends would leave Luzerne County and travel to parks in Allentown, New Jersey and New York.

“I was always wondering why we couldn’t get a park in our area,” Koviack said. “We would go to council meetings and they would always say it was an insurance issue.”

Koviack, also a member of the skatepark committee, said the new ramps could influence more kids to get outside and become less fixated on video games and their phones. Besides giving local youth more motivation to practice a sport, he also hopes the skatepark will keep kids out of trouble.

More skate spots for Eastern Pennsylvania

Plains could see a skatepark in its near future, too, Czekalski said. Right now, plans for a park at the Birchwood sports complex are in the works. Construction likely wouldn’t begin until at least 2024, he said.

After nearly 10 years of pushing for its own outdoor concrete skatepark, Reading is expected to set their own construction start date sometime this spring.

JD Turner, owner of Holistic Skate Shop and co-founder of the nonprofit Reading Skatepark Association, said his group raised about $500,000 before getting help from the city.

Turner said Reading Mayor Eddie Moran secured $1.2 million in ARPA funds for the project in addition to his nonprofit’s push for money from skateboarding foundations, state agency grants and local fundraisers.

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.