Written by Nathan Cushing of RVA News
In February Dr. Norman Merrifield, the director of Richmond Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities, approved a slab of concrete to be installed at Fonticello Park. The slab, sanctioned by a city official after the idea had been touted by members of the public, would provide a designated skating area in the park away from nearby residents. He expected the concrete within 60-90 days. His comments came five months ago in mid-February.
“Nothing has been done over there,” said Johnson Foster, a local organizer who has worked with residents, skaters, and the City to create a skate area in the park.
In the months prior to Dr. Merrifield’s comments, select residents of Fonticello Park (also known as Carter Jones Park) grew embittered over an uptick in skater presence, which residents felt added noise and trash to the park. The City closed down the area that skaters used, claiming that materials on site were unsafe. Johnston Foster stepped-in and helped forge a relationship between residents and skaters that ultimately led to the February meeting in which the head of Parks & Rec approved the plan to build a more remote skatepark within the park. Residents got their peace and quiet; skaters got a place to skate.
However, in the months since, Foster said that his near-weekly conversations with Parks & Rec about the project have featured a litany of bureaucratic excuses revolving around contracting bids, permits, and permissions. “It’s gone on and on and on like that,” said Foster. “What started out a positive soon fizzled out.” Christy Everson, spokeswoman for Parks & Rec, said she couldn’t speak to the delay, but said that a contractor has been selected. “We are expecting to start work in ten days or so.” Even if the concrete does pour within the next two weeks, there are additional hurdles for Foster and supporters of the skatepark.
After championing for the concrete initiative, Foster began working with the Friends of Fonticello Park, a board of community members entrusted with financial resources to steward the park. 1 Existing funds for Fonticello Park were held by a non-profit agency of the City, The Enrichmond Foundation. Some time ago, Foster contacted the foundation to learn how Friends of Fonticello could obtain these funds to help pay for skatepark costs. Only a round of phone tag has resulted.
Foster and his family will soon leave the city for unrelated personal issues. He regrets not having a skatepark installed before leaving the area. However, he’s tapped someone to take the reins of leadership, Kenny Shafer. He’s also helped lead the development of blueprints and budgets to help expedite the building of a skatepark. “I’m trying to be positive about it,” said Foster, who said he would like to visit Richmond one day and see that skatepark. Unfortunately, he said “the city has done nothing…but lead us on.” One hopes that changes in ten days or so.