Protest Continues Against Privatizing Monroe Park 

click to enlarge On April 14, Richmond City Council approved the leasing of Monroe Park, next to the Landmark Theater, to a private conservancy. Opponents have concerns about possible restrictions on public use.

Scott Elmquist

On April 14, Richmond City Council approved the leasing of Monroe Park, next to the Landmark Theater, to a private conservancy. Opponents have concerns about possible restrictions on public use.

Calling City Council President Charles Samuels a dingo is the first of many ways activist Mo Karnage plans to make backers of a privatization plan for Monroe Park uncomfortable.

Karnage, a member of the Wingnut Anarchist Collective, and others have fought against the plan to lease the park to a private conservancy since it was introduced in 2010. The lease calls for a renovation investment of $6 million, shared by the city and the Monroe Park Conservancy, before handing it off to the conservancy for 30 years.

City Council approved the lease at a raucous meeting April 14, where Karnage and others needled Samuels with jeers and signs. Samuels, who long has backed the proposal, attempted to stick to the agenda, at one point walking out on a speaker.

Opposition has centered on the future of the park's use as a feeding place for the homeless who gather there. Karnage has participated in weekly Sunday feedings by local group Food Not Bombs, and fears the conservancy could bar the feedings and the homeless.

Both will be allowed, the conservancy's president, Alice Massie, maintains.

With the lease approved, Massie says, the conservancy will look to raise the money necessary to renovate the park. She expects work to begin in fall 2015. She wouldn't provide more details, citing the fear of retribution from Karnage: "They've put themselves into our own personal spaces, and are making life uncomfortable."

After the City Council meeting, Karnage posted the addresses of Massie, Mayor Dwight Jones and other City Council members who backed the lease on the Wingnut blog. That was followed with a post about Jones' tax valuation on his house dropping by $60,000 while that of his neighbor, Richmond Free Press Editor and Publisher Raymond Boone, stayed roughly the same. The city assessor's office is reviewing the decrease in value, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Another activist, Nicholas DeFilippis, is organizing a boycott of conservancy-related businesses at freemonroepark.com.

"Our city is being sold piece by piece to people who wish to profit at the expense of others," the group's page states. "Our elected officials have betrayed the trust of their constituents by consistently voting against the interests and concerns of the people."

In addition to a march during the Easter Sunday parade down Monument Avenue, Karnage says, protesters will gather in Monroe Park on May 1 to celebrate May Day.

The hope is that the continued activism will ensure the planned renovation doesn't close the park, Karnage says, which would be an attempt to force out the homeless population.

"This is a touchstone place for generations of activists in Richmond and generations of homeless people," Karnage says. "I'm pretty sure we'd reach the point of civil disobedience before we give up."

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