The commission has been virtually dormant for a long while, says Pat Daniels, former president of the Fan District Association and member of the panel. Daniels says she’s not yet learned of the date for the group’s meeting, but is eager to start the planning process.
A few years ago a $4 million to $5 million proposal to move the fountain and create a kind of European piazza with a pool and low walls for seating failed when the city refused to endorse it. And for years many people have feared Monroe Park would inevitably end up in the hands of an ever-growing VCU. City Council created the Monroe Park Advisory Council in 1991. In 1992, VCU and the city agreed to protect the site’s status as a park.
Through the years, various groups have joined in the debate over the suitability of everything from the benches to the fountain to the paved walkways that come with the park. It also has a reputation as a place where the homeless convene. Most days the park appears idle and unkempt. Meanwhile, life bustles around it.
“A lot came to the surface eight or nine months ago when the performing arts people were looking at parking,” Daniels recalls.
Lately, the big contest with the park has been over its uses for parking, Councilman Pantele says, citing events at Landmark Theater, nearby churches and VCU that routinely bring buses and cars into the park. “This is not a parking lot,” he maintains.
It’s one of the first things the commission is likely to address, he says.
Daniels envisions the Monroe Park of tomorrow. It would be a kind of Parisian park with a carousel and stage. And it would be a half-story or so above ground. “Why can’t we put a two-story parking deck under the park?” she asks. Her inspiration: Manhattan’s Bryan Park, a recently revitalized park piping with Starbucks coffee, where people flock at lunchtime and after work. “Right now, the atmosphere of the park is walk through me and get out of here,” Daniels says. — Brandon Walters
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