By Alex Israel
Community Board 7, elected officials, and the skating community came together to support the naming of a renovated skate park in Riverside Park after beloved skateboarder Andy Kessler.
Kessler, born in Greece in 1961 and raised on the Upper West Side, was known as a leader in the skateboard community before his death from complications due to an allergic reaction to a wasp sting in 2009. He started skateboarding in Central Park in the 1970s, and was a key force in lobbying for, designing, and building Riverside Skate Park, the city’s first municipal skate park, which opened in the summer of 1995 at 108th Street.
A $2,867,000 capital project funded by the Borough President and City Council to renovate the skate park kicked off in May 2015, which some skateboarders protested at the time. Construction began four years later, and is expected to conclude in May 2020, with new skate elements, fencing, benches, picnic tables, and landscaping. According to Riverside Park’s website, before renovations began, it was “one of the very few vert skating spots throughout the five boroughs featuring a 10 foot wooden half pipe with vert as well as a mini half pipe, and quarter pipe.”
During Community Board 7’s March full board meeting, the board passed a resolution in support of the park naming to commemorate Kessler, which has broad support from local elected officials including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Councilmember Mark Levine, and Assemblymembers Linda Rosenthal and Danny O’Donnell.
Community Board 7 Second-Vice Chair Doug Kleiman, a lifetime Upper West Sider, said he knew Kessler as an acquaintance growing up. “He was really part of the neighborhood—I remember him [skating] at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and Sheep’s Meadow,” he said. “It kind of brings tears to my eyes, because I remember him fondly.”
Several members of the skating community showed up to the meeting in support of the renaming.
Kessler was a “true New Yorker,” according to artist and skateboarder Ivory Serra. “This is an opportunity to preserve a legacy,” he said.
Ian Clarke, a representative from the NYC Skate Coalition, spoke of Kessler’s legacy as New York City’s most prominent skateboarder, quoting Hall of Fame skateboarder Steve Austin: “Andy Kessler was a pioneer. His contributions came right from his heart for the love of skateboarding and for the city of New York. He continued until the day he died.”
Aaron Aniton, a graphic designer, member of the NYC Skate Coalition, and volunteer with the Tony Hawk Foundation, excitedly filmed the board’s unanimous vote. “This is a big deal,” he said, thanking the elected officials who supported the renaming request. “It’s awesome to see the skateboard community and local government come together.”