OJB Landscape Architecture’s (OJB) ambitious vision for America’s largest BMX venue opened earlier this month in Houston. Located near the Bush Intercontinental Airport on the site of a former wastewater treatment plant, the Rock Star Energy Bike Park features a massive bike track and public recreation space, spanning a total of 23 acres just north of the city.
“This one-of-a-kind park is a keystone to a redeveloping neighborhood in Houston,” said Chip Trageser, managing principal and project design director at OJB in a statement. “The design balances different types of experiences, from the novice to expert rider, to the visitor, or sport spectator.”
The design gives equal weight to the various types of competitive bike racing. OJB integrated a Supercross Track, a 27,000-square-foot Pump Track, and a 13,000-square-foot Dirt Jump Track across the park. There’s also an 18,000-square-foot urban riding plaza that’s outfitted with trick fixtures, as well as 25,000-square-feet of concrete bike bowls, and a tot-track for super young riders. A central promenade runs along the spine of the park so visitors can get from one distinct zone to the other while a bike trail encircles the entire site.
In time, the extreme sports destination will be shaded by 400 towering trees that OJB planted through several years of construction. The other 400 trees on-site were preserved from the original plot—a necessary design move to mitigate the Texas heat, according to Trageser. “We wanted to put the forest back and make the different tracks feel like they were part of a series of rooms throughout one big natural space,” he said.
Built out by the Greater Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority (now known as the Northeastern Development Corporation), the $25 million, large-scale activities park also includes four structures. At one end, local firm Brett Zamore Design created a 2,500-square-foot welcome center, as well as the larger BMX Center, which houses restrooms, a classroom, concessions area, and office space. The latter structure serves as the base of the starting ramps on the main track. Next door, an events space and observation deck looks out over the third turn on the course.
On the opposite end of the park, EndreStudio designed a small pavilion that feeds visitors into the large event lawn in the center of the site, as well as the 223-foot-long wooden bridge that leads bikers and visitors over the bowls. According to Trageser, one of the most surprising ways bikers use the bridge is by incorporating its thick concrete columns into their trick elements.
“I feel like this is what the park’s going to be known for,” he said. “The most memorable moment for me when the bike opened was when I saw these BMX professionals do these crazy tricks off the edges.”
Rock Star Energy Bike Park is seamlessly attached to the North Houston Skate Park, a 13-acre urban landscape also designed by OJB. It’s dually the largest of its kind in the U.S. and hosts major skate competitions all year long. OJB’s construction manager Scott Blons told AN that when the park was completed in 2015, there was an outcry from the local BMX community, which was banned from using the skating facility. “Those two courses, of course, don’t mix with one another,” said Blons. “So that triggered the start of our work on the BMX park.”
The entire site sits in a major flood zone next to the North Fork of the Greens Bayou, so OJB integrated a series of sustainable design elements to combat a potential deluge. Permeable pavement was used across all 3.5 acres of the two parking lots on-site, while stormwater detention capabilities were also integrated into the event lawn, rain gardens, and bike bowls, among other places. “There’s a substantial amount of hardscaping in the park that can handle water overflow,” said Blons. “Flooding is a big deal nowadays so it was important for us to think about this from the beginning.”
According to OJB, Rock Star Energy Park has already gotten major buzz. It’s set to hold major BMX competitions starting next month with the Texas state championship and then U.S. Nationals in October and in April of next year. In May, it will present the 2020 UCI BMX World Championships, which is the last qualifier for the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo.
But it’s not just the international community that will profoundly benefit from the new park. Local schools are set to visit, and STEM programs are being created to teach kids how to design and build BMX tracks, said Blons. “Even my kid is now a BMX rider. The CEO of USA BMX once told me that people are now tearing down baseball fields left and right to build these parks, which speaks to their popularity.”
Though the park is free to use and inclusive to everyone no matter age or ability, perhaps the most important aspect of the park’s existence is its location. Situated in the lower-income neighborhood of Greater Greenspoint, the park is an investment in the future economic development of its underserved population, according to Trageser. The city is prone to flooding and lacks substantial infrastructure.
“The project has the potential to score growth in this area and truly give back to the community,” he said. “We worked really hard to get to know the people who’d use this park and tried to translate their passion into a physical form that would be exciting for all.”