It's Sunday afternoon in a Doral industrial park, and eleven-year-old Roger Bustamante is doing what he loves most, busting out ollies and heel-flips and grabs.
But the gregarious, easygoing skateboarder is bummed. Here his board can't do what he wills it to do. Semi trucks are making deliveries, and some warehouse driveways run so steep that a young skater who attempts them will likely slam into corrugated metal doors.
Roger arrived here two hours ago, expecting to careen along a collection of pricey ramps, rails, and halfpipes, just as others did February 18. Not ten feet from where Roger squints under a midday glare in a lot filled with warehouses for Finexpo, IBC, and ExamOne is Miami's brand-new indoor skate park, M.I.A. "We love this one 'cause it's full of ramps and stuff," Roger says of the facility. "We never went to an indoor park before."
Though the media took no notice, within hours of opening its doors February 18, the skate park at 1850 NW 84th Ave. had to slam them shut. That opening had kicked off with great fanfare but without building permits and business licenses. "We went and did a bad thing; we went and opened before [we had city permission]," says Matt Cantor, the park's executive partner. Although Cantor is appreciative of the City of Doral's support for the new facility, he contends the bureaucratic process was too slow. This was, after all, the opening of a major practice/competition venue, and skating is one of the nation's fastest-growing pastimes.
This is Cantor's second South Florida facility. He opened Control Skatepark (380 NW 24th St., Miami) four years ago, and it quickly became known for BMX Mondays, private lessons, beginner clinics, and a cool vibe. Twelve-year-old Nicoli Saunders used to go there all the time, he says, because "Matt was so nice."
From the beginning, Skatepark of Tampa manager Ryan Clements was also impressed with Control. "It gave a feeling of Saint Petersburg in '93 and '94 and '95, before things got corporate. A feeling of no rules, you know?"
Cantor decided to team up with Chris Williams and Ed Selego, owners of M.I.A. Skate Shop (229 Ninth St., Miami Beach), which opened three years ago, to start a new place. Selego is especially beloved in the world of pro skating, and his shop has become a mecca of sorts for visiting skaters.
The trio resolved to run the best skate park Miami had ever seen, a place for the skateboarding family that would keep kids away from the boys in blue. Cantor closed Control to open M.I.A., but Williams and Selego kept their skate shop open. Three months ago, the three secured a space for the skate park.
Once Cantor signed the lease, he set a date for the opening. He wanted to attract the best skateboarders in the country, and they all needed to show up the same day. He invited Kenny Anderson, a hugely popular skater with a tight schedule; Danny Montoya, a technical dynamo from California; Guru Khalsa, a celebrated vegetarian skater from Texas; plus many others.
Even Bam would make an appearance Bam Margera, who became well-known for his idiotic stunts on Jackass and who would haul along an MTV crew from his new show, Viva La Bam, to record his every belch, curse, and k-grind.
So although the permit process dragged on, there was no changing opening day. You don't fuck around with MTV.
Doral building official Sergio Ascunce says permits for a place like M.I.A. often take awhile. Neither he nor Cantor mentioned just when the paperwork was filed, but Ascunce commented in an e-mail that "They had just applied for [the] permit and were in the process of having their application reviewed," when the park opened.
"It just took so long," Cantor says. "We couldn't wait any longer."
So they didn't. And at first on that clear, sunny, 80-degree day, things were nothing short of amazing. The buzz had already reached high decibels.
"They were looking forward to this big time, to this new park," says twelve-year-old Nicoli's father, Dennis Saunders. Nicoli didn't even care to try out the ramps that day. "I just wanted to see the people skating and get some autographs," he says.
The two arrived just before the 10:00 a.m. opening, too late to squeeze into the packed-to-capacity M.I.A., and they ended up crammed in a nearby warehouse lot with dozens of other fans.
"People had started lining up at 7:00 a.m. ... and by the time we got here, they weren't letting anybody near the building," Dennis says.
Meanwhile Roger and thirteen-year-old friend Carlos Barajas, who had arrived a few hours earlier, were inside having an "awesome" time watching Anderson stick a backside noseblunt slide and Khalsa hit a nollie heel down the double set with double flash (as Clements described it in his blog).
The kids also scored their share of autographs. "I got Kenny Anderson's!" Carlos says.
"I would've liked to get Kenny Anderson's," Nicoli adds.
Anderson and the other skaters put on that demo before a cheering audience of at least a hundred, but since there was a pack of kids and fans waiting outside, the skaters promised a second performance for 6:00 p.m. "I thought that was huge," Cantor says. "They were so willing to bend over backwards."
Before they could perform a second time, though, the cops showed up in at least a half-dozen squad cars. From an incident report and conversations with city officials, it's unclear who called the police or raised the permit issues. But by 2:18 p.m., the cops were filling out a report. Around 2:30, Cantor asked everyone to leave, and a bright orange stop-work order was slapped on the front door.
M.I.A. Skatepark was shut down. And as this story went to press, the park was still shuttered. MIA, you could say.
"It's, like, closed-closed," says Carlos, whose mom talks on her cell phone while the kids do their thing in the lot. "We were going to come here, like, every weekend."
"We gotta practice, you know?" Roger says, rubbing his knee from a previous skid. "Chicks dig skaters."
Cantor says he wasn't prepared for the number of people who showed up, calling the opening something "Miami in the skateboarding sense has never seen before."
Clements, who drove down from Tampa, called the demo one of the best he'd ever witnessed, even with the overflow. "You could call it controlled chaos," he says, adding that it's fitting Cantor opened M.I.A., which at 12,520 square feet is one-tenth the size of the world's largest outdoor park (in Shanghai) and a third the size of an indoor one in Pensacola, but is still sizable and professional enough to attract major competitions.
Clements says it's unfortunate M.I.A. got off to a shaky start. "Someone tries to do the right thing: one, create a legitimate business; and two, provide a service, and there's some red tape. What's the big deal?" he asks.
The big deal, says the city, is safety.
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"It is the intent of our codes and inspections to make sure they occupy the building safely, so a stop-work order had to be issued," Ascunce wrote. "The Building Department is willing to assist them ... as we have already been doing, in an effort to get their business reopened."
Cantor is uncomfortable discussing the skate park until the reopening occurs, perhaps soon. He doesn't want to piss off the city. "All I can say is, I want to apologize. This is our whole life right now. Every day we're not open, we're losing serious money."
And that's no exaggeration. Another site in the industrial lot is up for rent at about eight dollars per square foot that's around $100,000 a month.
Cantor sounds frustrated now, but he might do well to take a cue from Roger Bustamante, the park's eleven-year-old fan. "What do I like about skating? The fact that we fall and break our asses and still survive. Chicks dig people who fall and get back up."