Explainer: Fonticello and the future of Richmond skateparks

There’s been some drama in one of the city’s parks for the last several months. Without even one skatepark in the city, skaters from all over the city have convened on Fonticello Park at a makeshift skating area. Some neighbors support them. Some don’t. What one local father and skater is doing to make a real skatepark happen, and how the city has responded thus far

There’s been a lot of interest over the past week about a makeshift skatepark in Fonticello Park. Back in October, we wrote about how the 28th Street skatepark in Forrest Hill had grown in popularity. This made some residents uneasy as it increased the amount of noise and trash in the area. There was talk of building a small skatepark farther away from residents, yet still within Fonticello Park. No one, however, stepped up to lead the way and plans stalled. That seems to have changed.

The situation

Last week, Richmond Parks & Rec posted a letter outside the 28th Street location that said:

Due continuing neighborhood complaints about late night use of the skatepark and that many of these skateboard ramps are unsafe for many users, they must be removed from the Playground by Wednesday, February 15, 2012. Failure to remove this equipment will result in these items being disposed of by City Parks and Recreation Staff. Thank you for your cooperation.

Getting organized

“Someone need to step up, and no one seemed to be doing that.” This is Woodland Heights resident, Johnston Foster. He told RVANews that the skaters were not appropriately organized to work with the city to organize and facilitate a skatepark. “Our plan is to permanently construct A”, he said. “We’re trying to come up with a solution that everyone likes.”

The thirty-three-year-old father moved to Woodland Heights a year-and-a-half ago. He said that the skating area at Fonticello Park, which occupies seldom used tennis courts, was one of the draws for moving to the area. “I only see it as a positive thing.”

While Johnston’s aim is to facilitate a skatepark in the area, he is also very sympathetic to the concerns of his fellow residents, a group of people with which the City has not, in his opinion, properly dealt. “The City and Parks & Rec have not been doing their job to properly deal with this situation on both sides.”

Johnston organized a public gathering at the location this past Saturday. Among those in attendance were roughly 70 skaters, fifteen residents, as well as Larry Miller of Richmond Parks & Rec and that department’s director, Dr. Norman Merrifield. “It went really well,” said Johnston.

A possible solution

A North Carolina-based skatepark construction company, Artisan Skateparks, has built several skateparks of varying sizes throughout the Mid-Atlantic region (and will begin construction in Stockholm, Sweden in the near future). Owner Andy Duck said that a concrete skatepark reduces noise compared to most makeshift skating areas. Artisan Skateparks constructed a 3400 sq. ft. park in Manteo, North Carolina for approximately $50,000 (roughly half the typical cost) by having some of the time and materials donated.


Some have wondered if the City would be on the hook should someone injure himself at a local park (one of the reasons Parks & Rec want to close the Fonticello skating area is because of “unsafe” structures). Andy Duck said that skateboarding is a hazardous activity under Virginia law, making the user responsible for his safety while taking part in that activity.

Next steps

This Wednesday, Richmond Parks & Rec will host a meeting to address how they plan to respond to the issues of skateboarding at Fonticello Park, as well as plans for possible future skateparks throughout the city. “We’re feeling good about it,” said Johnson. “We’ve got the momentum.”

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stock photo by Davy G.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

6 comments on Explainer: Fonticello and the future of Richmond skateparks

  1. Its in Woodland Heights, not Forrest Hill and 50k seems like a lot of money for a city who is already struggling with its budget. Something more modest initially may be needed.

  2. No mention of 22nd Street parking lot? I thought that was a done deal (as done as they come). Thanks for the write up Nathan.

  3. Greg,

    You need a frame of reference. To the average layman, $50,000 sounds expensive. Take for instance the fact that it costs $1.5 million for 6 miles of 5-foot wide sidewalk improvements.

    Reference: http://www.riderichmond.net/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/PBT-Commission-Handouts-03-23-2011.pdf

    I personally would rather our city invest money where citizens and the youth have the opportunity to exercise, go outside, have fun, and explore our city that makes them want to stay after high school and college. You build it and they will come. You make a city rad and talent stops moving away to other cities like NY, Austin, Portland, SF and stays in Richmond. Invest in the future.

    I find it ridiculous that one can drive 10 miles north to Laurel, VA, population 15,000 and use a city-funded skatepark, but Richmond, VA, population 204,000 (within the official city limits) doesn’t have a facility. Laurel “gets it”, why don’t we?


  4. anonymous on said:

    To be blunt, the City police and resources in general do not want to have to deal with all the college age skate punks. No offense to college age skate punks, its just that they would rather leave you guys to VCU police, while they deal with more dangerous criminals. Maybe VCU should repurpose a parking deck or something.

  5. @Anonymous: What? Are you serious? You know there’s this little thing I picked up in philosophy once: empirical claims require empirical evidence.

    I still go out and skate and I’m supposedly some sort of working professional now. If skating somehow entails I’m a punk, then so be it. I am. What’s your point again? As a tax paying citizen I want facilities that enhance our city. Now that the carpenter center is built, dedicate a % of the 6% MEALS tax from the general fund into Parks & Rec and our outdoor facilities. VCU has propped up Richmond long enough while our government deals with a trifectus power struggle between the Mayor, City Council, and the School Board.

    Repurpose a parking deck… get real.

  6. anonymous on said:

    Michael, I am not disagreeing with your overall points and I am not picking on skaters. I agree the City should do a proper skate park (and maybe VCU should contribute).

    I am just trying to add the perspective that the City is very reluctant to deal with youth issues. City police don’t want to deal with deal with biking or skateboard issues. (Actually, you will notice that this national economic recession/depression is hurting youth more than the elderly, and that goes into a whole tirade about the generational warfare going on, but I digress…). And VCU, which is all about selling basketball, would rather its students hit the books than skate board.

    I am not saying that’s a good perspective or one that I agree with, but it is there.

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