Nested among warehouses and distribution centers in the Nitro's Hub Industrial Park, a new indoor skatepark is becoming a haven for skating and BMX enthusiasts looking to escape the winter elements.Owner Jake Haught opened The Next Level Sk8Park on Dec. 15. The park is West Virginia's only indoor skatepark, and Haught said it has caught on among skaters and bikers from near and far."There's one old guy that brings a whole vanload of church kids from his church over 100 miles, and he comes here about every two weeks," Haught said. The 13,000-square-foot skatepark is situated in a former La-Z-Boy warehouse and beside an insulation company at No. 3 McJunkin Road in Nitro. It has 10 features, including a six-foot box jump and a 4-foot mini ramp with 6-foot extensions.Haught began his venture with a business partner in November. The two were childhood friends with Scott Cable, who owns the Balzout Warehouse where the skatepark leases its space in the Hub Industrial Park."He was a really good skater," Haught said of Cable. "All of us growing up together, we worked out a good deal where we could build an indoor park, and he gave me a pretty good deal on the rate."Cable gave Haught a month of free rent to give him time to get the park up and going. Haught's business partner ended up going a separate direction, but Haught persisted in building the skatepark from the ground up with help from the skating community."Luckily, we've got a lot of good skater friends that donated wood and time and effort and money originally to help get this started, and that generated business," Haught said. "And as that business came in, it gave us a little more money to build the next little project."The help paid off. The park opened with its first skating competition on Dec. 15, and after three weeks of being open, Haught said the skatepark was able to expand from one ramp to two, and was generating enough revenue to sustain itself.
Still, there was much more to be done. To compete with outdoor skateparks in the summer months, Haught knew he would have to expand what the park had to offer. He broke into his own bank account and "drained it" to help expand the park."To really build it up and step it up to the next level took a good bit more money, and that's why it's bringing in 80 to 100 kids a day now because there's enough stuff to do in here," Haught said.Haught estimates about 600 different customers have come through the doors of his two-month-old business. Volunteer Scott Norman, 21, of Charleston, said contrary to what people may believe, skaters and bikers "ages 2 to 50" have visited the new park."A lot of people think it's just kids when it's really not," Norman said. "Most of the people here are my age, at least 20."Haught doesn't consider himself a social-media-savvy person, but he started a Facebook page for the skatepark to reach out to his customers. There, he asked skaters what they wanted to see next. The responses rolled in.
"A lot of these kids are on there all the time," Haught said.
"I put on there, 'What do y'all want next?' And I got about 40 responses, and luckily, a lot of them are saying the same stuff. A lot of us older guys like the ramps, and all the younger kids want the street section."Haught has no employees, so volunteers have done most of the work to the park. Some skate for free and work when on the park when they aren't skating. Throughout the three-and-a-half month construction process, Haught said even the paying skaters at the park have been instrumental in improving it, from cleaning up to donating supplies."This guy right here, he just paid to skate and then swept the place," Haught said, pointing to a teenager standing on top of a mini ramp."They know 100 percent of the money that's coming in the door goes back into this place. 100 percent. And all the money we sell selling Gatorade and water goes right back into this place."Nobody that works here gets paid a cent. We work as much as we can during the day to pay the bills, then come in here and work on this place."Even the walls of the skatepark are decorated with vibrant graffiti art, all done by area graffiti artists. The letters "MCHM" cover of the skatepark's bathroom walls, while a painting of a fish in a bowl of MCHM-tainted water overlooks over the four-foot mini ramp.
Norman said the park's walls are open to area artists who want to express themselves in a legal manner."You'll see people in Charleston and Huntington getting arrested for painting on a wall that nobody's using or something, and they do jail time and have to pay fines, but they can come in here and do that," Norman said.Norman is one of the park's volunteers, though he doesn't consider himself one. He describes skateboarding as his "other life" and quickly became involved when an indoor skatepark came to the area."It's getting there," Norman said as he looked around the park. "I would say we're not halfway done yet. We've got a lot of work."Haught estimates $60,000 to $100,000 will go into expanding the park's street section, including a rail section and other improvements as spring looms and outdoor skateparks come back into season.The park is open Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends.Contact writer Marcus Constantino at email@example.com or 304-348-1796. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.