Richmond skate community push for skate park in East End

Skateboarding enthusiast Sonny Fleming skates at one of his DIY skate parks in Richmond. Photo courtesy of Sonny Fleming

Joe Dodson, Contributing writer

After a push from local skateboarders, Richmond officials are exploring installing a skate park in the city’s East End.

The City of Richmond’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities asked Fulton and Montrose Heights community members for input on renovations through an online survey. Potential changes to the Powhatan Hill Community Center include improving basketball and tennis courts, adding pickleball courts and a skate park, along with sidewalks, landscaping and other amenities.

Sonny Fleming, an avid skateboarding enthusiast, said a skate park would give neighborhood kids more options to be active. 

“This side of town, which is lower income, the kids need something to do,” Fleming said. “Why not give them one more option?”

Fleming helped build the 28th Street Skatepark in Forest Hill and has built his own DIY skate parks for kids in the East End to use. For nine years, Fleming said he and his friends would build ramps only for them to be destroyed shortly after by the city. 

After the first time, Fleming thought concrete ramps would be harder for the city to remove.

His most recent ramps were located on the tennis courts at the Powhatan Community Center, and they were in place for nearly a year until COVID-19 hit. Fleming said he took it upon himself to remove the ramps to prevent crowds of skaters. Once Fleming noticed basketball hoops and tennis nets were reinstalled at the center, Fleming put his ramps back on the court. This time, the ramps were gone after two days.

“Legally, they should not have been placed there,” said Tamara Jenkins of Richmond’s parks and recreation department. “However, it is because of the skate community that we are looking at installing an actual skate park.” 

Fleming took to Instagram to get local skaters to express their interest in an improved skatepark. 

Local skating professionals Gilbert Crocket and Ty Beall expressed their support by sharing the survey on social media. Fleming reached out to the BMX community, and local skate shops as well. 

Nine years ago, Fleming — a lifelong skater who’s built DIY skate parks in Philadelphia and a 32,000-square-foot park in Utah — made his way to Richmond, where he met a group of skaters his age. 

A year after moving to the area, Fleming began hosting a skate session for kids every Sunday at his home ramp. What originally started with his son and neighbor Matt Conner’s son grew into 13 families coming over to skate. With so many little kids to account for, the parents decided they needed a larger venue to host the skate sessions. Fleming said city-funded skateparks are few and far between in Richmond. 

“Richmond is the capital of Virginia, and we only have one skatepark and DIY spot,” Fleming said. “Look at cities like Norfolk, where there are four. Charlottesville just put in a multimillion dollar facility.”

Conner, who has lived in the East End for more than 20 years, said the DIY park got much more use out of the spot than tennis does. 

“I skated there every single day,” Conner said. “There were times when I stopped going over there because there were so many people skating there. Way more people than ever played tennis there.”

The results of the city’s survey, which ended Oct. 9, have not yet been released. The parks and recreation department said it is still formulating a plan for what to do with the park. 

Fleming, 46, said he hopes the department decides to build a permanent park — not for himself, but for the skate community as a whole. The process for getting a new park has been slow. Fleming’s child, who has been skating on the court since he was seven, is now in middle school. 

“I understand it’s a slow process, but at the same time it’s a backwards process,” Fleming said. “For a sport that’s been around this long and obviously is only getting bigger.”

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