As children were playfully swinging on a playground just north of the Dennis & Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center in Forest Park, the joyful sounds of youthful bliss rang out as a fitting backdrop to the groundbreaking ceremony unfolding announcing the coming of basketball courts.
One of the largest urban parks in the country, the 3,000-acre green space has a plethora of sport venues for golf, tennis, soccer, handball, racquetball, skating, cricket as well as lakes for boating, fishing, and playgrounds for kids.
But it has never had one of the most popular sports for urban youth. Come summer of 2024, the sounds of basketball will echo through the nearly 150-year-old park for the first time ever.
The Bookers, Nick’s parents
Moreover, the project is a partnership between the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry and Forest Park Forever, a private nonprofit conservancy that works to restore, maintain, and sustain the park.
Sue McCollum, Chair of the Forest Park Board of Directors, called the new basketball courts “a milestone for the park for so many reasons.”
“Basketball. Are we ready for some b-ball,” McCollum said. “As the city’s largest park and as a place that is a true symbol of St. Louis, Forest Park is for our entire community. It is important that everyone knows that they are welcome here, and there are activities and attractions that appeal to everyone. So, basketball courts will just be another and the newest amenity that will bring more families to Forest Park.”
And when completed in the summer 2024, the site will include two full courts, two half courts, dark sky compliant lighting, a shade pavilion, 35 new trees, and player benches. The price tag is $1.5 million for design, construction, and initial programming of the space.
In recognition, the courts will be named in memory of Nicholas J. Booker, a St. Louis youth who was a beloved basketball enthusiast with a personal connection to Forest Park. As a teenager, Nick Booker gained an appreciation for Forest Park while working summers with the city’s parks department. Tragically, Nick died in 2018 during his first year of college at Fordham University after suffering a severe asthma attack while playing pickup basketball.
Nick’s parents, Britt and Satonya Booker, took part in the November 7th groundbreaking.
“This is a tremendous honor; We’re very proud,” said Nick’s father, Britt Booker. Nick’s mother, Satonya, said the basketball courts are special because they serve to bring the community together.
“This is something our son would have wanted to do,” she said. “He was that kind of person who wanted everyone to feel welcome. This is an opportunity to do that. We both understand that this is something that will bring everyone together racially.”
“When I ran for mayor, I imagined the parks would have the same amenities no matter the neighborhood they’re located in,” said Jones, adding that she was excited to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony last month for new basketball courts in Tower Grove Park in South St. Louis.
About Forest Park Forever
Founded in 1986, Forest Park Forever is a private nonprofit conservancy that works in partnership with the City of St. Louis and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry to restore, maintain and sustain Forest Park, as one of America’s great urban public parks for a diverse community of visitors to enjoy, now and forever. Forest Park Forever has led major fundraising efforts to restore many landmark destinations in Forest Park, including the Emerson Grand Basin, the Boathouse and the Jewel Box.
In 2017, the organization completed a major fundraising campaign securing $139 million for Park restoration projects and an expanded endowment.
Today, Forest Park Forever maintains Forest Park with the City of St. Louis; raises funds for and helps manage capital restoration projects called for in the Forest Park Master Plan; delivers experiential educational opportunities to teachers, students and adults; and provides information and guides for the Park’s 15.5 million annual visitors. Not part of the Zoo-Museum Tax District, Forest Park Forever is supported by private donations from throughout the community, including its 6,000 members, 1,100 volunteers and many leading community and corporate partners.