Home is subjective; everyone has their own definition of what a home can be. For some, home is a house in suburbia with a white picket fence where children frolic in the front yard and families come to life. For others, home is where you can go to pursue passions — even if it’s an urban mountain range of skate ramps and rails beneath the Miami metro. Home knows no singular definition; however, Miami-based nonprofit SkateFree took a vacant parking lot and made it into Lot 11 which is now home to the Miami skateboarding community.
“When I grew up in Miami, there was a loss of hope for good skate parks paired with a ton of apathy from the government,” said SkateFree’s president Nick Katz. The professional skateboarder, who also owns Andrew Skate Shop in Downtown Miami, recalls that the couple of skate parks present in Miami during his childhood were janky and paling in comparison to the state-of-the-art facilities he saw in skate magazines.
“At the time, skateparks were an afterthought; they were just a new amenity that the city could add to its public parks,” said Katz.
SkateFree founder Danny Fuenzalida echoed this sentiment saying, “after living in Miami for a few years, there was a complete void of people willing to push the City of Miami for a good skate park.”
One of only four professional skaters in the area, Fuenzalida felt obliged to fill the void within the Miami skateboarding community. Growing up in Chile, Fuenzalida dreamed of building skate parks where he grew up. The professional skateboarder said he took his dream above and beyond when he moved to Miami.
“When I went to the city about [a new skate park], they said they had always supported the idea of building skate parks, but the skating community was not organized enough,” said Fuenzalida when reflecting on his first steps towards Lot 11. “The city told me that there was never a concrete plan when they would take steps towards building skate parks.”
Fuenzalida remembers the city of Miami told him to start an organization so skateboarding could assemble a plan towards building a skate park. Thus, in 2012, SkateFree was born to harness private ownership to create a public amenity. The nonprofit was founded with Fuenzalida’s childhood dream of building and managing free public skate parks being at the center of organization’s initiatives.
“Relying on the city was not going to get me my dream skate park,” said Fuenzalida when asked about his motivation to begin SkateFree.
Fuenzalida and Katz first met back when construction broke the ground at Grand Central Skate Spot which used to be a 22,000-square-foot skate park located in downtown Miami. Impressed by Katz’s commitment to building a state-of-the-art skateboard park in Miami, Fuenzalida asked Katz to join SkateFree. From there, the pair began working together on additional projects such as their temporary, one month pop-up skate park in partnership with Red Bull.
“Things worked out in a beautiful way. I was really lucky with how things worked out,” said Fuenzalida. SkateFree partnered with the Miami Parking Authority and was lucky when the city-level organization donated a parking lot underneath a bridge. Over nine years of development, Katz and Fuenzalida created a skate park with state-of-the-art facilities which has since become a hub for beginners and professionals alike.
“Lot 11 showed that we can take an old dusty parking lot under I-95 and turn it into something, the best skate park in Miami,” said Katz. “We turned it into something useful for the community.”
Katz says he sees kids at Lot 11 daily, assuming they spend more time at his skate park than at home or school. “I want Lot 11 to be a meeting ground for kids, where they meet friends that change their lives. I hope that when kids come to Lot 11, they feel as if it’s their home,”
Polly Mercenari, a UM freshman majoring in media management, says he grew up interested in skateboarding and began going to Lot 11 with his father at age 12 to meet people and to learn how to skateboard. Although Mercenari may not skate as often as he used to, he still sees value in the city having a public space akin to Lot 11.
“Lot 11 is so convenient because it is close to everyone, whether north, south, east or west,” said Mercenari. “When I go there, I see a little bit of everything — from little kids learning to skate to older people shooting professional videos and everything in between.”
Mercenari says he still attends Lot 11 — only now to attend the monthly flea market. The Lot 11 flea market, which occurs on the third Sunday of every month, allow small local businesses to sell various products — from food to custom-made clothes and jewelry.
“It’s really fun to walk around and check stuff out, especially the vintage and thrifted clothes,” said Mercenari who enjoys bringing friends along with him.
By creating programming that has become a prominent part of SkateFree’s brand story, Katz says he feels lucky to flex his creative muscle and work with partners on unique free events.
“Programming has become a really big part of our brand story and give back to the Miami community,” said Katz. “Our goal is to bring new experiences to the Miami skate community that have never existed before.”
One creative who connected with the space and understood the necessity of Miami having a skate park akin to Lot 11 was former Off-White CEO and former Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh. According to Katz, Abloh “always pushed positive energy [his] way about how important Lot 11 would be” during the skate park’s construction process. After Abloh’s sudden passing in November of 2021, Katz said he and Fuenzalida felt it necessary to honor his contributions to skateboarding and partnered with Nike to create the Virgil Abloh Foundation.
“My last correspondence with Virgil before he passed away was about doing some skate contest at Lot 11,” said Katz, recalling how even after Abloh’s career took off, he still checked in on Lot 11’s development. “I remember him telling me he thought it would be dope to do a skate event at the park during Art Basel weekend; he even offered to put up all the money and fund it to make a vibe.”
On December 5, 2022, just over a year after Abloh passed, Lot 11 hosted its first annual Abloh Skateboarding Invitational on Art Basel weekend. Many coveted names within the skateboarding community were in attendance, including Paul Rodriguez, Ishod Wair and Sean Malto.
“The city came out in droves for the Abloh Invitational, and I was really proud of it,” said Katz. “I am really excited to see it happen again this year,” Katz added, stating that the event will include a day of skateboarding clinics for kids and giveaways for the community.
Out of all the events Lot 11 has hosted since opening in 2019, Katz says his favorite was the Andrew Music Club. In collaboration with his good friend David Sinopoli, who founded the Three Points Music Festival and owns Club Space, Katz planned a unique, underground music experience with affordable ticket prices.
“We did a large-scale campaign with Spotify to curate a playlist of what music represented the Miami skateboarding scene,” said Katz of Lot 11’s other endeavors. Katz says the Skate Noise campaign culminated in a live band performance from the Jacuzzi Boys on June 30, 2023.
“Having performers at Lot 11 brings a one-of-a-kind ticked music experience to Lot 11,” said Katz. “It makes it a venue that can be more malleable and give people a great experience with their friends.”
“I saw my two friends’ DJ performance for an event for skaters and techno listeners last month at Lot 11,” said Gaelle Charlet, a UM junior double majoring in computer science and interactive media. “I knew most of the DJs, and everyone there was super friendly,” she added.
Lot 11 is more than just a skatepark; it is a hub of arts and culture that is the product of years of pursuit and a passion ignited in the childhoods of Fuenzalida and Katz. Together, they created a home for the next generation of skateboarders, filling the void they felt in their youth within the skateboarding community.
words_caleigh russo. photo_sophia pallman. design_melanie bergunker.
This article was published in Distraction’s Winter 2023 print issue.
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