Richmond's Monroe Park, known as a haven for the homeless, has been slated for renovations for eight years. However, the park looks the same; it's even been accused of being poorly maintained. Currently, trash lines some of the benches, while part of the fountain's fence remains plowed over. Some park-goers also say the sidewalks, lighting and overgrown trees need to be improved.
However, the pressure is on for an upgrade. Two major developments neighboring the park are underway: the Altria Theater renovations, along with VCU's planned Institute for Contemporary Art. Advocates say Monroe Park will need to blend with its budding surroundings.
"It feels like you're going into a different area," said VCU student Mitchell Holoman. "You want it to be an approachable area…I think this is something that a lot of the people around here care about."
City officials set aside at least $2 million for the underground work. Private donations must pay for the rest of the estimated $6.3 million project. That total could be less after bids for the construction materialize. However, Councilman Charles Samuels says the construction won't start until all the funds and plans are set.
"The goal is to not keep the park closed for an eternity, but only during construction," said Councilman Samuels.
During construction, homeless people who gather at Monroe Park daily will have to find another spot. There have already been public discussions over where they'll relocate. Weekends are the biggest concern since that's when other groups bring food to the park to feed the homeless.
"There is supposed to be some type of outlet for the social traffic…that has amassed here at Monroe Park for the last twenty years," said Sur Williams, who was formerly homeless, spending his afternoon's near the park's fountain.
However, the Monroe Park Conservancy, a non-profit group raising money for the renovations, has only garnered about a third of the approximate $4 million still needed.
"It is a very complex issue… to get all those moving parts together, simply takes time," said Samuels.
VCU has offered to manage the park once the renovations are complete. However, there is no set date for when the construction will start.
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