Over the last few weeks, we started seeing Instagram footage of people skating a section of the Brooklyn Banks. While we’ve all snuck in sporadically over the years, the Banks haven’t been officially open since 2010 and after the ground started getting ripped apart, many of us figured we would probably never skate it again.
To our surprise, after over a decade of work, we finally have the funding and leadership in place for the Banks to make a full revitalized comeback this year and into 2024. In hopes of getting the most thorough update possible, we reached out to the mayor of New York skateboarding Steve Rodriguez to ask about a realistic timeline for the space and separate fact from fiction.
Q&A WITH STEVE RODRIGUEZ
Rumor has it that part of the Brooklyn Banks is re-opening soon. Any truth to this?
Yeah, it’s soon. I can’t say when, but it’s soon.
So you know the nine stair area, and then that little park on the side where there’s nothing? You know, the shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball, handball court, like where Jamie Thomas did that line to go to the 13?
That area and the nine stair area are coming back very soon.
Who would you wanna see skate the nine stair now and what tricks?
I would love to see Brian Wenning there [laughs] in his old form. Danny Supa… All people that I know probably wouldn’t skate it today. Pappalardo. There was a time when the nine stair was the shit and everybody was throwing down, both skating it as a set and the rail. It’s actually a big set of stairs, and you land going downhill. It’s not like downhill downhill, but there’s definitely an incline.
How are the original bricks holding up? Are they gonna refurbish or fix any of them?
They did some brickwork at the nine stair to make a lot of the broken bricks and rough areas a little better, and the small banks will need to be completely rebuilt from scratch, which I’m looking forward to because you can make it as good as it was, if not better. They removed all the bricks on the flat of the Big Banks. That is the section of the Banks that’s coming back to us last. I don’t totally know how it will be returned to us. I am hoping that it is returned with bricks and in good condition.
Are the people sneaking in to skate it early blowing it and fucking up the roll-out?
They wanted to put up signs, and they still might want me to do that, but yeah, the more that people skate in there before it’s open, the more tension it’s going to cause with the contractor and with the city being like, “They can’t stay out of here for a little longer?” But you know, people are going to go in no matter what signs you put.
It would be great if people could stay out for now, I mean, I’m dying to get in there and skate too!
“The small banks will need to be completely rebuilt from scratch, which I’m looking forward to because you can make it as good as it was, if not better.”
Do you see skaters “owning” the reopened space as a viable option, or do you think it’s going to be a competitive space for other types of people and city events?
I don’t think anybody outside of skateboarding and the local community see the value [of The Banks]. But when the Brooklyn Banks is fully open, maybe more people who are doing events at bigger venues are gonna want to do them at The Banks too.
It is part of a nine-acre space. You can have people just chilling, you can have little gardens, you can have anything in there. I want to keep all that stuff that was skated for skateboarding, but I know a lot of people used to go to The Banks, to do graffiti, to draw, to do parkour, BMX, or whatever. They used to do Shakespearian plays down there, like students and stuff like that.
Everybody should definitely be able to use the space and I think there should be enough flexible space for everybody.
Do you think it’s going to look kind of like what Seaport looks like now, with playground structures, workout equipment, benches, cafes, and stuff like that?
Honestly, I don’t see it being like anything that already exists because it is such an awesome iconic space. My partners and I want to approach this as something that when you experience it, it’s like nothing else out there. I don’t want it to be like something else. I want people to see it and want to mimic it.
As far as amenities and stuff like that, I definitely want to add public bathrooms.
There is a lot of space down there where you could have something as minimal as a cafe. You know that little Astor Place cafe? Imagine something like that, or something a little bigger, or someplace you could eat outdoors. That would be so sick so parents could bring their kids there, kids could skate, parents could chill.
To me, I see it as something normal, like that’s how it should be. It shouldn’t be just this desert down there.
“If it’s not a relevant spot immediately, it will become one.
Where else is there a spot like that?
Do you think this spot is still “relevant” for New York now that there are so many skateparks and other places to skate in the city?
I do think that if it’s not a relevant spot immediately, it will become one. First of all, it’s authentic. Second of all, there’s so much history. And third of all, there’s going to be new takes on it. Again, this is a legitimate street spot that you can film at, skate at, and meet people at.
People might be like everything’s been done, but that’s not true, because kids or skaters today, their ability is crazy. I’m just thinking, like, Mark Suciu. 15 years ago there was nobody like that. Who knows how this next generation will apply their reality of skateboarding to the spot? There are some things that may be done there that nobody even thought of. They’ll just look at it a different way. Every generation put its mark on it, from Javier Nunez switch flipping it way back in the day, Harry Jumonji doing powerslides on it, to Westgate’s stuff back then…
While we’re reminiscing, what’s your favorite personal memory from the times you spent there?
I’d say the first time I ever went there. I was at SoHo Skates [old skate shop], and I followed Harry Jumonji and his crew to the Brooklyn Banks. Someone in the shop said they were going there, and I was too scared. I was like 14 at the time and had just started skating, and I didn’t know what it was at the time. All I heard was, “They’re going to The Banks.”
I literally just skated a block and a half behind them so they didn’t see me following them, and I followed them all the way there. I just rounded that corner and it felt like I was rolling into a movie set. It was just like, “Oh shit…” It was probably only like 20 people there, but it felt like there were 500 people there. I remember that like it was this afternoon.
And then there were all those crazy events, right?
Back to The Banks, those were crazy events. There were more than like 2000 people there. No security. Just skaters killing it. It really was this celebration of the spot coming back after it was closed, but it was at a time in skateboarding when things were peaking, as far as those types of events. No other event existed like that and everybody wanted to come. All the big brands were there and sent pros to skate it, it was covered in magazines, there were recaps about it…
“I don’t doubt any stories from the banks, dude.
It was wild back in the day.”
Photographer Daniel Harold Sturt supposedly said he saw Harold Hunter hit someone over the head with a brick there. Have you ever heard that story?
I have never heard that story. I think I saw Kyle James hit someone with a skateboard on the head, though [laughs].
I don’t doubt any stories from the banks, dude. It was wild back in the day. I’ll say, I was super intimidated when I was 14 going there. I didn’t know anybody, but then also someone’s always trying to steal your skateboard. Basically, you would never stop skateboarding because if you did, someone would ask to try your board, and if you let them, they’d most likely steal it, so you never stopped skateboarding.
Is there anything else that you want to mention?
Since we don’t have all the funding in place, we are still raising money and taking donations. The biggest help in making this happen was the Skatepark Project. The time, effort, support and resources they dedicated to helping make this happen was crazy. They really helped our nonprofit [Gotham Park]. That is me Rosa Chang and other board members. To me, without that… I’m not saying it wouldn’t have happened, but it definitely wouldn’t be happening as fast as it is happening. That is something you always gotta give props to.
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