Renovated Monroe Park to reopen in mid-August

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RICHMOND, Va. – Water will once again bubble in the restored, 100-year-old plus Monroe Park iron fountain, when the perimeter fences are finally removed and people return – on August 15.

City of Richmond project manager Don Summers confirmed the opening date for the city’s oldest park, which has been closed to the public since mid-November 2016.

Crews still need to finish fitting the remaining perimeter sidewalks, including Main Street, with the bio-retention system, according to Summers. Other items to complete include street scaping with lights along pedestrian ways, the new Laurel Street Pavilion, and the Checkers House renovation.

Renovation of the 7.5-acre park was initially forecast to cost $6 million and take 12-18 months; the project will be completed in 21 months based on the slated opening date . The park is now managed by the non-profit Monroe Park Conservancy, who has a 30-year lease after a 2014 measure was approved by City Council.

The Checkers house in Monroe Park.

The Conservancy intends to use the Checkers House and Laurel Street Pavilion to generate revenue. The Checkers House is envisioned as a “grab and go” opportunity for visitors to grab beverages, healthy snacks, pre-packaged foods, and related convenience items, according to the online request for proposal (RFP).

Food, beverage and retail proposals are currently being accepted for a one-year contract by the Conservancy, through June 4. The contract will be awarded by July 15.

The Conservancy is searching for a long-term partner to offer affordable goods and services and to serve as an anchor to “help promote energy and activity in the Park.” The vendor is expected to provide “a varied selection of product offerings, including healthy food items, gluten free items, along with outstanding customer service.”

The Laurel Street Pavilion will be utilized as an event space and generate funds through rentals.

Though concerned members of the public voiced disdain for the trees removed during the construction phase, drone video shot on May 3 showed a lot of remaining greenery.

CBS 6 reached out to the Conservancy multiple times with questions about the renovation, but received no response.

Citizen advocates maintain that established protocol has not been followed during construction, and at least 15 trees already removed without required approval.

In early May, Oregon Hill resident Charles Woodson also pointed out that a 800 amp electrical station intended for a section near Pine and Main Streets was instead installed behind a World War II monument, and the relocation was not approved by city planners.

The electrical station installed behind the WWII monument

“It was incumbent upon them to go back and get their approval for another location, and they did not do that,” Woodson said.

Mark Olinger, Richmond’s Director of Planning and Development, only responded at the time that the city was “still doing discovery, as we just found out about this.” No further details were provided.

Criticism has also loudly resounded that placing the park under management by a private entity makes it hard for citizens to participate in its future transformation, with intense feedback offered on the removal of the homeless who hunkered down there for years.

The Conservancy pointed to New York City's privately run public spaces, like Bryant Park and Central Park, as examples of successful partnerships.

Indeed, the Monroe Park Master Plan from 2008 pushed for the park to be privately financed and managed in order to "better serve the public," though many citizen advocates say the Conservancy is not accessible, is not bound by established city policy, and does not have to answer why the project has taken longer than planned.

Established in 1851, the park infrastructure was last updated in the 1920s. The new, initial construction upgraded the antiquated underground sewer, gas, water, and electrical systems. The second phase of work focused on above ground changes.

The original layout has been maintained, though the asphalt walkways will be replaced by compacted stone dust and raised to grades consistent with the park lawn.

Parkgoers will enjoy free WiFi, as well as better LED lighting when the park reopens just in time for the return of VCU students.

The city and Conservancy raised matching funds and Virginia Commonwealth University contributed an estimated $1 million to the renovations.


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