The Monroe Park campaign

The Monroe Park campaign is a group of individuals determined to keep Monroe Park public and open throughout the planned extensive renovation period — at least nine months.

The Monroe Park campaign is less an organized group and more a collection of similarly minded individuals determined to keep Monroe Park public and open throughout the planned extensive renovation period.

Organizer Rebecca Adams laid out the campaign’s plan clearly: “This is a public park; everybody should be able to use it.”

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The source of the campaign’s concern? The Monroe Park Master Plan — the City’s 130-page, $7.5 million blueprint for a renovation of Richmond’s oldest public park. The plan calls for extensive physical work to be done to every corner of the park. Members of the city’s Monroe Park Advisory Council, the governing body designated to oversee the renovation, has estimated a a total park shut down to last at least nine months.

Eric Scott, a member of the Wingnut Anarchist Collective and Food Not Bombs, said the Monroe Park campaign first got off the ground after a run-in with Monroe Park Advisory Council (MPAC) head Alice Massie at a public feeding in Monroe Park in September of last year. They had heard rumors and read articles in the paper about planned renovations and approached Massie.

“We went over and started asking questions,” Scott said. “And that’s when she said the park would be closed for nine to 18 months and would be blocked off by a 9-foot fence…that’s when we started to organize.”

Not only would the park closing hinder the 16-year history of Food Not Bombs’ community feedings — it would displace the many homeless who come to the park regularly to eat and the locals who come to socialize.

The Monroe Park Master Plan recognizes the homeless population, stating, “As many as 300 people could be seen lined up in the park, waiting to receive food being distributed by groups of volunteers.”

Rebecca Adams

What troubles Scott, Adams, the Wingnuts, and the rest of the folks involved in the campaign is the line following it. “The homeless presence in Monroe Park poses an impediment to increased park usage.” The plan also puts current park users into two categories: transients and VCU students.

This anti-homeless sentiment provoked a response in the Richmond community. Within 5 months, a petition asking for the park to remain open during renovations collected over 1,000 signatures.

Scott said it wasn’t hard to find support for the campaign. “The people who are directly involved [in the campaign] are those who are most affected by its closing.” This includes church groups who supply community feedings and those interested in the well-being of the less fortunate. But it’s not only people who are concerned for the homeless who are reacting.

Megan Osborn, who’s involved in the Monroe Park campaign, said the goal is about keeping an open place for the citizenry of Richmond.

“It’s a public park; there are more than just feeding programs that go on there. It’s the largest green space and it’s so centralized.” she said. “It’s a place for game re-enactors, and students to gather… it’s a community place. People feel a sense of community there. And if it’s shut down we wont have that sense of community anymore.”

The campaign doesn’t take issues with all renovations and would like to see general improvements made to the park; there are concerns are with specific parts of the project. “They are going to build a replica of the James River,” Adams said, “which seems silly because the REAL James River is a few blocks away.”

Osborn takes issue with establishing a private security force to police a park. Combine private security and a goal of keeping the homeless out of the park, and Osborn thinks discrimination could occur.

She said, “How can anyone tell if someone is homeless unless you go up and ask everyone in the park? And what does it matter? They’re people too, they are part of this community, they are citizens of Richmond.”

In November of last year, Fan District Councilman Charles Samuels held a public meeting to discuss concerns for the park. There, engineers and Samuels laid out the Master Plan and gave members of the public a chance to get into groups and come up with solutions to the issues. Video from the event shows citizens, some siding with the Monroe Park campaign, some not, unwilling to see the entirety of the park closed for any extended period of time.

In a Times-Dispatch interview after the meeting, Samuels said he still believed closing the park in its entirety would be necessary for the plan to continue. This idea was supported by Glenn Telfer, a member of the Draper Aden Associates engineering firm that is working on the project. “It’s a matter of money and priorities.”

The campaign continues to put on events and take action against the planned closing. Since the 1000th Signature “Party in the Park,” campaign members have sought more information on the plan, using Freedom of Information Act requests as a way to find out specifics. Scott said he was still waiting on such details as current cost estimates and companies that could be given contracts.

Scott and friends have also made efforts by approaching their city council members. In a meeting with his Barton Heights Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, Scott was told he would need five people on city council to have a majority to get them behind a plan change.

“We’re not backing down. Period.” Scott said. “We will continue to fight until we know that the park will remain open. And if they decide to not leave a portion open, we will continue to resist.”

Photos by John Garcia

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Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner is a freelance journalist living in the Bellevue neighborhood of Richmond’s Northside. He is a regular contributor to Pacifica’s Free Speech Radio News, and is a volunteer manager with WRIR 97.3 LP-FM. He specializes in reporting on local politics and the environment, but spends most of his time looking at food blogs with his tiny dog in his lap.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Scott Burger on said:

    I have been sympathetic to both sides of the Monroe Park debate all along- meaning that I support Food Not Bombs mission as well as neighbors who have worked on the Monroe Park Advisory Committee.

    After publicly examining the controversy on, I have concluded that while there is room for compromise, neither side is interested in one.

    One of my comments from the comments section of the above post:

    Getting back to the question of the post, here is what I have heard (offhand, anonymously, and unofficial, aka- not from the City):

    “The estimates I have heard for redrawing plans for Monroe Park to keep 25% open during construction along with the added time it would take to complete the renovation is north of a million bucks. I know whats been paid to draw the plans the city now has so im not doubting those figures.
    Lets say a miracle occurred and it was found that they could cut that down $950,000.00 to only 50,000 bucks. Remember that the cost for drawing plans generally runs 10% of total project costs. Let’s also say that construction could be carried out in under a year- say 9 months. Also VERY VERY doubtful if not impossible. That would mean the taxpayers of the City would only have to pay an extra $1400.00 per FNB weekly feeding to accommodate their demands. $1400 hundred a week given to the struggling Food Bank (see yesterdays TD) would feed an AMAZING number of hungry people.
    There is no current funding for the 6.2 million above the million or so the city has appropriated for utility/lighting upgrades. It is going to be a massive effort to arrange for the financing- public/private – in today’s economy.”

    It would be helpful to get more exact figures and estimates in regard to the renovations, but that should give an idea about the challenges. (Again, like everyone here, I am in favor of this public park getting needed attention and renovations.)
    On the other side of the coin, so to speak, does FNB really need 25% of the park to stay open to serve food? It seems like it would need room for four folding tables and trash/recycling . So would 10% of the park staying open suffice?

  2. As a co-founder of the game re-enactors, a VCU student, and a permanent resident of Carver, I would like to weigh in on this debate. As a group, Galatia would like to see all of these renovations happen as fast as possible for safety reasons. With the concrete and curbs in the current park, it is only a matter of time before someone trips and cracks there head open. If it is not one of us, it will be someone playing catch or Frisbee. Once part 1 of the Master Plan is finished the park will become a much safer and attractive place for people like us to use. I can’t wait for the day when there is more grass and less concrete. With the removal of the curbs we will have more room to spread out. We know we will have to leave during the construction, but we are eagerly awaiting the day we can return.

    The idea of keeping 25% of the park open will only help the people who do feedings. With only 25% open Galatia will not be there, there will be no space for us. Students will not use it, why would they want to sun bathe next to a dusty construction site? With only 10% or 25% of the park open there just plain won’t be enough space for all of the people who normally use the park to use it. It would be better for everyone involved to relocate to alternative locations during the renovations. The extra money saved could be put to much better use, like speeding up the renovations or as Scott pointed out, providing for the local Food Banks. This transition should be treated like pulling off a bandage, yes there will be pain and inconvenience while it is happening but once finished the park will be healed.

    Galatia is a member of Dagorhir Battle Games. I like to characterize what we do as “full contact medieval combat.” Our equipment is foam based and conforms to Dagorhir national safety standards. We practice in Monroe Park most Wednesdays at 2:00 and Saturdays at noon with between 10 and 40 people. For more information go to or
    Buck “Stone” Helmke, co-founder of Galatia.

  3. Charles Woodson on said:

    There still needs to be a solution to the massive amounts of litter that is generated by those involved in the feedings. Certain feeding groups and food recipients seem to have no respect for the historic park or regard for the surrounding communities. Plastic bags, styrofoam cups and plates, dirty napkins etc get blown by the wind into the James River (Chesapeake Bay Water Shed) as well as Oregon Hill, Carver and Monroe Ward. Will this disrespect remain after the Park is renovated? The only real solution is personal responsibility- if you do a good deed but in the process commit a deed wronging others, then ultimately what have you accomplished. Go to the park during a weekend, especially after 5PM on Sundays and you will see the problem.

  4. Although I think everyone agrees that he park could use renovations and improved upkeep, the attitudes of those who’ve neglected the park for so long and are now fueling the development plans are really problematic. Monroe Park sits in the center of a city with intense poverty and very few homeless shelters. It will never become the beacon of prosperity that the advisory board seems to be after. And this isn’t about Food Not Bombs or Wingnut anarchists. There are dozens of feeding programs surrounding the park as well as within it. Responding to criticism by pigeon-holing service providers as radicals and litter-bugs (gasp!) is really pathetic.

    Downtown Richmond’s indigent population isn’t going anywhere Monroe Park will never become Short Pump Town Center. Between the students and the homeless, the park just isn’t likely to ever be a destination. With that in mind, park planners were wrong to forecast a future and an interim period without poor people in the equation. A sliver of the park might be enough space to serve a meal, but from dawn to dusk for over a year, it’s hardly humane treatment for people who are mostly just looking for a place to relax and socialize. It’s really sad to see Richmond’s decision-makers attempting to impose a relative atmosphere of Stony Point Fashion Park with 9’ft tall fences and a private security force. Whatever is done with the park, those who seek to serve as Richmond’s leaders need to be more realistic and inclusive of their constituents.

  5. Closing the park for renovations makes complete sense, to anyone with any idea of budget or construction.

    The Monroe Park campaign is actually a campaign AGAINST Monroe Park. Just call it Wingnut by another name.

    We already know Wingnut doesn’t like it. And most people seem not to like Wingnut. But renaming Wingnut “The Monroe Park Campaign” doesn’t make the ideas any less laughable. What is it about radical ideas that make them so incompatible with sense and logic?

  6. Charles Woodson on said:

    Jason- the Park has a not so distant history of being a destination place. Concerts – GREAT concerts and get togethers, demonstrations and just great hanging were the norm well into the 70s. I know because I was there. Your determination to make Monroe Park a dedicated homeless service providing facility is really the problem here as well as your ad hominem attacks. You just cant make a justified case for your point of view so things are “pathetic”. You are the one being non inclusive. If you think dumping trash on the ground so it ends up in the James River or in someones yard in a surrounding community is OK then we have a profound difference of opinion. If renewing the pathways to make them safer, improving lighting and healing the soil ( look at it next time you hang at the Food Not Bombs show- the soil you stand on is grey and lifeless) and generally reversing the lack of maintenance is so wrong to you, go somewhere else. The Park belongs to all City residents and is there for all to enjoy. I cant wait for the improvements to come!

  7. Monroe Park should be an outdoor living room for he increasing number of people living and working in the area and can help attract more residents to the area. To compare these renovations to short dump town center is obvious evidence that you are clueless.

  8. Kelly on said:

    It seems like the people who would use the park are already using it and just practical improvements (landscaping, safety, access) would be enough instead of dramatic renovations. I can’t imagine a family dealing with parking on a weekday with so many outdoor options already available. It’s definitely not a car destination (I’m pro-bikes and walks, but let’s be realistic).

  9. I agree with Kelly.

  10. Close the park all at once to save money and get the renovations done faster. Move the Sunday feeding programs to Kanawha Plaza at 8th and Canal Sts. It’s not as far as the Conrad Center, offers plenty of space, and is not heavily trafficked on weekends so the food providers who show up in cars at Monroe Park drive one mile further and park on the streets there. They park cars all around it for Fridays at Sunset and I doubt anyone will mind if they do it on a Sunday.

    And those who think Monroe Park will never be a destination are clueless to the purpose of the plan itself – which is to make it a destination for more people, not less. How pessimistic can you get?!?!

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