“Over here is one of my nemeses,” says Alice Massie, strolling toward the rusting green cast-iron fountain in the heart of Monroe Park on an overcast February morning. The president of the Monroe Park Conservancy stops at the fountain’s wrought-iron enclosure. “Look,” she says, pointing at the ground.
Visible are dozens of holes punched in the mulch that Massie believes were dug by rats (we didn’t see any rats during our walk). “They come every winter,” she says. “It’s gross. Really gross.”
“It’s a metaphor for the whole park,” she continues. “Why renovate? That’s it.”
Massie’s group leased the eight-acre park from the city in 2014 with plans to renovate it. The lease deal drew critics, who characterized it as the privatization of a public space.
Renovation was set to begin after the 2015 UCI Road World Championships, but the group hadn’t raised the $3 million it needed to cover improvements. To date, Massie says they have $1.7 million pledged for the project. She’s aiming to reach the fundraising goal by May. Then, shovels will meet dirt.
The park will be fenced off for the duration of the renovation for safety reasons, Massie says. That, too, was a sticking point for opponents of the lease, because the area’s homeless sit on the park’s benches, repose under its trees and receive meals there from local charitable groups on the weekends. With the park closed for a year, the critics asked, where would those people go?
Criticism of the lease has dissipated in the two years since it was approved, but the question is still unanswered. Massie says it’s not her group’s responsibility to provide one, only improve the park for all to enjoy.
“If people don’t embrace the project, we have an ‘as is’ park,” she says. “And the rats are happy.”