St. John Baptist Church plans to build recreation center

St. John Baptist Church plans to build Life Center to support local youth
Design of planned St. John Baptist Church LIfe Center courtesy of the City of Richmond.

St. John Baptist Church, located on 8th Street between Chanslor Avenue and the Richmond Greenway, is proposing to build a new 9,800 square foot recreational center in its current parking lot.

The church’s proposed Family Life Center, which is set to be reviewed by the City of Richmond Design Review Board on Wednesday, would locate south of the St. John Baptist sanctuary center and include a basketball court. Plans include constructing a parking lot on vacant parcels located across the street, according to city documents.

“The Life Center will be strictly used per our pastor’s vision to get the youth and young adolescent children off the streets and get them focused on after-school programs to include extracurricular activities namely basketball, workout gym and area for playing video games, [foos] ball, billiards etc.,” said Abdul Esmail, CEO of Archon Development & Construction Group Inc.

The plans received some pushback from Pogo Park, the Iron Triangle nonprofit that turns underutilized spaces into vibrant parks, including the nearby Harbour-8 Park on the Richmond Greenway.

In a letter to the city, Pogo Park praised St. John’s work and community impact and expressed support for its efforts to make improvements to the neighborhood. But the nonprofit took issue with adding a fenced-in, asphalt-covered parking lot next to Harbour 8, which it said constitutes “dead space.”

“A parking lot next to the park doesn’t help to bring the park to life or provide housing that provides, in turn, ‘eyes on the park’ to keep it safe,” Toody Maher, founder of Pogo Park, stated in the letter.

Pogo Park also requests that the Family Life Center feature windows that look out onto the Greenway. “Instead the design of the building is like a fortress,” Maher said.

Maher said she appreciated the church’s willingness to engage her nonprofit in dialogue over the plans.

The Design Review Board meeting is scheduled to take place via Zoom at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Click here for more information.