Vans Inc. to Build Skate Park at Mall in Orange


Moving to cash in on the popularity of skateboarding and in-line skating, an ambitious new retail and entertainment center in Orange will feature what’s being billed as the nation’s largest and most technically advanced skate park.

Footwear company Vans Inc. said Thursday that it has broken ground on the skate park at the new mall, which has been named the Block. The $165-million center is being built on the site of the former City shopping center by Mills Corp., the developer of the enormous Ontario Mills shopping center.

The 46,000-square-foot skating facility, due to open in late November, will have 34-foot ceilings and 6,000 square feet of outdoor space. It will also feature an 80-foot vertical ramp, a 20,000-square-foot street course and two cement skate “pools” built into the ground.


The skate park, which the company hopes will be the first in a chain of such facilities around the country, takes what have largely been street-based sports to a new level. Existing skate parks are primarily mom-and-pop operations or are run by parks and recreation departments.

The decision by a well-known corporation to invest in skate parks is a major step for skateboarding and skating, which are still struggling to be recognized as legitimate sports, industry sources say.

With an estimated 8 million skateboarders and 30 million in-line skaters throughout the nation, there’s a huge demand for such facilities, said Gary Schoenfeld, chief executive of Santa Fe Springs-based Vans.

However, some industry sources noted that indoor sports facilities are expensive to build and operate, and it might be difficult to make a profit on them.

Neal Lyons, senior vice president at Vans, said the skate park is envisioned as a magnet for families. The park will have facilities designed for everyone from professionals to beginners and will include a large mezzanine area where viewers can watch.

Vans is a 32-year-old company that for years was known for its sturdy canvas shoes. In recent years it has remade itself into a youth-oriented marketer of athletic and casual footwear and has proved adept at staying in tune with its customers through such methods as sponsorship of an extreme-sports tour and support of professional skateboarders.


Despite its cool, somewhat anti-establishment image among adolescents, Vans is a financially sound, conservatively managed company, said analyst John D. Olinksi at Wedbush Morgan Securities in Los Angeles.

Its shoes are sold by mainstream shoe retailers and department stores, as well as in 95 company-owned stores. In the nine months ended Feb. 28, Vans’ profit rose 19% to $9.2 million, and its net sales grew 18% to $141.7 million, while many other athletic shoe companies have experienced flat growth.

Larry Siegel, Mills’ chairman and chief executive, said the skate park fits in with the eclectic theme of the mall, which will be anchored by a 30-screen AMC theater, and include a Virgin Megastore, Alcatraz Brewing Co., Graham Central Station nightclub complex and specialty shops.

Arlington, Va.-based Mills Corp. develops malls nationwide.

The hugely successful Ontario Mills, which opened in late 1996, attracted 17 million visitors last year, more than Disneyland.