A tiny but important wedge of green space, serving the densely populated Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis, is coming out of years-long dormancy as a new skate park.

The 28th Street Tot Lot, located next to Interstate 35W, is owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). It has been leased by the Minneapolis Park Board since 1968 and named for the small play area. The playground equipment was dragged away in 2017 and MnDOT used it as a staging area for a highway reconstruction project.

In 2021, the Tot Lot topped the Minneapolis Park Board's equity-based criteria for neighborhood park improvements due to the surrounding neighborhood being designated as a "racially concentrated area of poverty," the park's lack of past funding and the poor condition of its assets.

The Park Board is now looking to buy the Tot Lot from MnDOT, setting aside $200,000 for improvements this summer. It's also partnering with the nonprofit City of Skate, which advocates for skate parks to be built throughout the state.

Local skater and designer Mark Leski worked with park staff members to create initial concepts, which includes a snake run and mini bowl features. The public is encouraged to provide feedback via a survey that is live on the Park Board's website through Friday.

"The skate features at this park site will be a first-of-its-kind for the Minneapolis system in terms of being community-led and community-built," said Carol HejlStone, park project manager. "We're wanting to allow the skaters to really build something for themselves that will best meet their needs."

The Park Board will perform the site grading and stormwater improvements, but then City of Skate will assemble a community crew to pour concrete and create the actual features that they would ultimately donate to the Park Board.

In the past, skaters who fabricated their own skate features and used them in unsanctioned skate spots throughout Minneapolis parks often found themselves at odds with officials concerned about injuries exposing the Park Board to legal liability.

While the Tot Lot would not be a true DIY park in the same vein as the very popular but illegal pop-up at Bde Maka Ska a few years ago, the partnership between the Park Board and skating community is a happy medium, City of Skate project lead Witt Siasoco said.

"A lot of us came together and said, 'We can do this and we know we can do it in a professional way,' " Siasoco said.

The 28th Street Tot Lot is also getting a brand new playground. The Park Board will pay for the play area, trails, site furnishing and lighting.