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Construction begins on Forest Park basketball courts named after late teen

A rendering of the first basketball courts to come to Forest Park.
SWT Design
A rendering of the first basketball courts to come to Forest Park

Two weeks after basketball courts were officially opened at Tower Grove Park, St. Louis officials confirmed long-awaited plans to begin construction for similar courts at the city's largest recreational outdoor space, Forest Park.

Dozens of park leaders and community advocates gathered at the site Tuesday afternoon — right behind the Dennis and Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center — to officially mark the beginning of construction of basketball courts for the first time in the park's history.

The nonprofit leading fundraising efforts, Forest Park Forever, said fundraising is ongoing, with a goal of $1.5 million for the court’s design and construction.

Those in attendance included Mayor Tishaura Jones and members from a group of supporters called “The Layup Line,” which advocated for the project.

These courts will have a special sentiment behind them.

They will be named for Nicholas J. Booker, an 18-year-old St. Louis native who died of asthma in 2018 while playing pickup basketball during his first year at Fordham University in New York City, park officials said.

His mother, Satonya Booker, said this is the perfect way to honor her son.

“Nick was the kind of guy who wanted people to feel welcomed,” Booker said Tuesday. “He always wanted people to feel happy and connected. We want to bring the community together. This is something our community has needed for a long time, so we’re honored.

“It’s bittersweet,” she added.

According to his family, Nicholas’ grandfather Andy Newman is trustee of the foundation that played a major part in providing gifts for getting the courts in Nicholas’ name. Nicholas frequented Forest Park as a teenager working summers with the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.

Nicholas’ great-grandmother Evelyn Newman was a philanthropist who served as the first executive director of Forest Park Forever.

Construction of the courts will likely begin in earnest after winter passes, and officials said they expect the basketball courts to be open by summer 2024. The facility will be equipped with four basketball courts — two full and two half — as well as dark sky compliant lighting, a shade pavilion, 35 new trees and player benches.

Greg Hayes, director of the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry, said Tuesday that the courts will be “something new” that will serve St. Louisans for decades.

“We’ve found an ideal location here in the park next to the visitor center, with its hub of visitor activity, recreation, nearby transit access and close proximity to ample parking and restroom facilities,” Hayes said.

Tower Grove Park, located about two miles south of Forest Park, unveiled its basketball courts on Oct. 20. It had been three decades since the second-largest park in the city had them.

Jones, who also championed the courts opening at Tower Grove, said parks deserve the same amenities regardless of the neighborhood they’re located in. Fewer than one-third of the city’s 108 parks have basketball courts.

“These courts are an investment in our children, in our families and our neighborhoods,” the mayor said.

Correction: Evelyn Newman is Nicholas J. Booker's great-grandmother. A previous version of this story misstated the relationship.

Lacretia Wimbley is a general assignment reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.