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What's to become of Monroe Park?

A group of citizens is mobilizing to revitalize Monroe Park.

But it's not. Today, the park is known as a resting place for many of the city's homeless and a backup parking lot for Virginia Commonwealth University events, city vehicles and intrepid commuters.

"I've seen people take a shortcut and just drive through the park," says David M. Clinger, a longtime resident of the area who wrote a book about the 151-year-old park titled "The Ghosts and Glories of Monroe Park: A Sesquicentennial History."

Now he and other citizens are reviving the Monroe Park Advisory Council, first formed in 1991. The council aims to restore the historic park and protect it from misuse.

This summer, Oregon Hill residents met with representatives from VCU and the city, which share financial responsibility for the park's maintenance, to discuss its future. The city proposed to allow permitted parking in the area. Residents, however, feared the place would become nothing but a parking lot with trees. "So there's this huge uproar," Pantele says.

Since then, Clinger says he's seen few city vehicles parked there. But, he says, the park still needs a champion and a strategy for its future — both of which, as it turned out, exist but are dormant.

In 1998, the advisory council, with architect James Glave, developed a detailed master plan. It included basic improvements such as trimming trees and planting flowers, as well as elaborate plans to move the central fountain toward Laurel Street, put a performing-arts space in its place and "make sort of a huge piazza there," Clinger says.

The only problem? Doing so would cost around $3 million. The city said "There's no money to do these kinds of things," according to Pantele. The plans were scrapped and the park council stopped meeting.

Now, Clinger and other park advocates are determined to dust off that plan and get to work. They'll start small, he says, by removing dead trees themselves, for example, and seeking money. Eventually, he says, the park will be restored.

But, Clinger says, the intention is not to chase anyone off. "It seems to me," he says, "that a park is for everybody." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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