INDIANAPOLIS — A new skatepark on Indianapolis’ near east side is open and it was the efforts of advocates, the local skateboarding community, and family and friends of 20-year-old Ethan Williams, who helped push it through with the help of city officials.
The new Willard Park Skatepark, located about a mile east of downtown on Washington Street, is now open and free to the public to use for skateboarding, scootering and rollerblading. Local skatepark advocates shared it’s the city’s first new skatepark to be built in about two decades.
“Skateboarding has really gotten popular since then,” said Tim Devlin, community organizer for Indy Skatepark Advocates. “I think this park being more accessible to public transit, bike lanes and stuff like that, we’re gonna see a lot more people at this park.”
What this park will offer to the community is exactly what Ethan Williams always hoped would be built in Indianapolis. It was during a trip to New York City, something he had dreamed about for as long as his family can remember, that he was randomly shot and killed while outside his Airbnb in Brooklyn.
That trip was meant to be an opportunity for Ethan and some friends to get a break during the fall semester, skate, take some photos and shoot some film, but it turned into the Williams family’s worst nightmare. His case still remains unsolved more than a year and a half later, despite his family’s continued push for answers.
After Ethan’s passing, people shared stories with Jason Williams, Ethan’s dad, and their family about the impact Ethan left on them at a memorial service attended by thousands.
“All of these stories of his positivity and his love and compassion for people of all kinds, was pretty remarkable,” said Jason. “He was very interested in that people treated each other well. He was bothered by violence in the world, so it was very ironic that he lost his life to gun violence.”
It wasn’t long after Ethan’s death that Jason was approached by Ethan’s friends and members of the local skateboarding community, asking if they could try to get Indianapolis’ newly proposed “in the heart of the city” skatepark at Willard Park dedicated to and named after Ethan.
While Jason knew nothing about it, he said he immediately began making calls to see if they could get the ball rolling. The campaign quickly received the support of Mayor Joe Hogsett, skateboarder Tony Hawk, the NFL Referees Union and other organizations.
“Basically we started pulling it all together, the mayor helped us get through some red tape, and next thing we knew, we were on board with the skatepark,” said Jason.
Although the skatepark was not named after Ethan, it was named after William Willard, founder of the Indiana School for the Deaf. Jason said he feels it came out beautifully, and even features a grind rail that says “Indianapolis” in sign language.
The park also honors Ethan, who was a fierce advocate for helping Indianapolis’ youth and putting an end to youth violence. While a Charter Member of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council as he was in high school, Jason said his son had a vision to improve and develop urban spaces to bring together the community.
“He understood lots of kids didn’t grow up playing basketball, you know, and travel baseball and all of this stuff. They just had whatever they had in their neighborhood. He was an advocate for urban spaces,” said Jason.
That’s exactly what this new community space is doing, providing a centralized space for the community to skate safely, while also bringing people together who share the same interests. Ethan believed if people could gather around a common interest, regardless of their backgrounds, they could become friends.
“To know that this is here today and people who have never met each other are meeting and hanging out because of Ethan is pretty neat,” said Jason. “I know he would like that we’re doing something positive as a result of the tragedy.”
Combining his love for skateboarding with education and literature, the park’s developers incorporated a ramp designed like a book, paying homage to Ethan.
“There is a part of the skatepark that is in memory of our friend Ethan that passed away. The book. We designed the book to represent Ethan’s love of reading and education,” said Devlin. “Every time we see the book we’ll think of Ethan and it’s even better that it’s here, it’s skate-able, because I think that is something Ethan would have been really happy to see.”
Jason Williams and his family agree.
“The piece that kind of represents my son is the books because he was a lover of books and film and literature,” he said.
The Englewood community and City of Indianapolis were awarded a grant to build the skatepark in Willard Park, located near downtown. It was Hunger Skateparks who designed and constructed the new community space. The Bloomington-based design and construction firm is skateboarder owned and operated.
“We actually built a bigger park than we thought we’d be able to, which has been amazing,” said Jason.
Hunger Skateparks shared that the team learned it would be bigger than originally anticipated and worked with local advocates to develop a more balanced design. That design included the book for Ethan.
“We want to thank Ethan’s family and friends for being so supportive of the project and becoming skatepark advocates in the process,” wrote the team at Hunger Skateparks.
On top of the family’s efforts, it was Tim Devlin and Indy Skatepark Advocates that worked tirelessly to volunteer on this project for three years.
“I think nowadays, the more things you can provide for kids that are you know give them some sort of gratification they’re working towards something, progressing – I think skateboarding is like that,” said Devlin.
Devlin has been a skateboarder for more than 25 years and has passed along his passion for the sport to his daughter, who also skates. He said the skatepark is a perfect opportunity to allow kids to get outdoors.
Prior to the Willard Park Skatepark being constructed, the Major Taylor Skatepark, nearly six miles from downtown Indy, was the most recently built, and that was in 1999. This will be the “first proper” skatepark in the 465 loop, said advocates.
Their hope, along with the Williams family, is that people will respect the new grounds and treat it with care for years to come, so countless people can enjoy it. Above all, they hope it encourages people to connect with their neighbors in the community.
“Ethan, he loved people. He loved community. My wife is a school counselor, I’m an educator, so we spent our life raising our kids to lookout for other kids,” said Jason. “Knowing that this will be here for a long time and it will bring people together, it will give kids in the community somewhere to hangout, it’s just – it’s phenomenal.”
A ribbon cutting with city officials is tentatively planned for the end of June.