St. Joseph Housing Initiative Showcases a Model for Regional Collaboration in Dutchtown

The mere mention of the St. Louis’ Dutchtown neighborhood to your average St. Louisan invokes a wild arrangement of responses from ardent passion to a cratering negativity. The neighborhood, one of the most dense in population in St. Louis City, has Germanic roots and became a popular working class community. That is, until the mid 20th century when St. Louis began seeing its decades-long population decline led primarily by “white flight” – a demographic transition that contributed to vacancy and abandonment across the city and region.

Dutchtown saw its population halve, but that’s hardly the full story. Much like other parts of St. Louis, the decline has slowed, or in many cases, been replaced by increases in population. This particular community also diversified significantly and is currently experiencing a modest population increase – a rather historic milestone that may not have yet been noticed by most in the region.

Graph provided by Downtown Dutchtown

It’s not terribly surprising then that those outside of Dutchtown often speak of the decay. There’s some truth to that perception too. Driving throughout Dutchtown, there are plenty of boarded up buildings. This is particularly tragic in many ways as we have plenty of unhoused people in the region and extensive housing stock simply not being used. The architecture in Dutchtown is also stunning. With gorgeous brickwork as far as the eye can see, corner shops, and mixed-housing from dense multifamily interspersed with single-family homes, the neighborhood has the same architectural quality and urban design as Shaw or Forest Park Southeast.

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Their perception is really only half the story. Dutchtown’s many challenges aside, it appears to be in the midst of a steady, community-driven revitalization thanks to the incredibly hard work of its residents. While that work is evident in the higher home values, the many rehabs taking place through its streets, and the shops opening up within its boundaries, the real evidence is within the people. Their hard work has been channeled into multiple mission-driven organizations that collaboratively work together for the betterment of Dutchtown. When Annie Purcell, the St. Joseph Housing Initiative Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator reached out to me about their May 1st cleanup, she emphasized the collaboration of the many community organizations. I agreed to cover the Spring Block Cleanup, already familiar with SJHI and Dutchtown organizations more broadly, but had never attended one of Purcell’s events before.

The May 1st Block Cleanup hosted by St. Joseph Housing Initiative is but one of their many volunteer events. For those unfamiliar with the housing initiative, it is an organization that works to revitalize housing in Dutchtown to resolve vacancy and then offer their renovated units below market-rate. They hope to tackle vacancy and increase home ownership opportunities and subsequently equity for low-income residents as a tool for financial security. They frequently tap into their volunteer network to put in the long work of painting, landscaping, cleanup, and more to make the process as affordable as possible. Unlike some housing and renovation programs, SJHI genuinely puts forth a good product with above average finishes, solid appliances, and with respect for the historic architecture in the city.

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It turns out that many of the SJHI volunteers also are active in other neighborhood and community organizations. This particular event was sponsored by a whole cohort, including Cure Violence, Downtown Dutchtown, Dutchtown South Community Corporation, Employment Connection, St. Mary’s High School, and Operation Brightside. Newly elected Alderwoman Schweitzer attended the event as well and contributed to the cleanup efforts. The event was packed, with dozens of volunteers ranging from local families to leadership at the many organizations described above. Most volunteers lived within the neighborhood, but there was also strong attendance from people in the County who may have grown up in the neighborhood – some truly shocked to see the neighborhood clean and picking up steam. There were also some members of big STL area institutions, bullish on Dutchtown. One such member who wished to remain anonymous clarified the importance of bolstering not just South City, put all parts of North City as an essential mission for St. Louis.

That mission and striving for equity across St. Louis reverberated throughout the many conversations I had with volunteers, and there was a palpable aching for more regional collaboration. This event featured a host of organizations, a strong Dutchtown presence with some additional members of the broader STL community, and the success of the event appeared to contribute to a longing for more like this in the region. There were at times members of different organizations connecting, discussing how similar efforts could be recreated across the city – and this very reporter was invited by multiple organizations and institutions to not only report on their progress, but to be a part of it and a connector for such efforts.

SJHI Block Cleanup Volunteers – Brian Adler

Regional collaboration is a sore spot for the St. Louis region. With a sharply divided City and County and a deep history of racial segregation, working together and finding common ground is far from easy. That said, if any community is finding that link, it is Dutchtown. With a growing, diverse population and tough, decades-long challenges, Dutchtown has found a sense of identity and purpose. It is that identity that leads to a single organization like St. Joseph Housing Initiative being able to pull the kind of volunteer crowd it does and simultaneously pull focus on the regional collaboration it has helped cultivate.

It’s also far more than one event. The regional network of organizations fuels and promotes events for all of its partners underneath a core brand. With its ‘Dutchtown Proud’ campaign, it’s common to find yard signs, T-Shirts, and branding everywhere across the community. There is significant buy-in among residents and local business owners. New businesses are often introduced to the network prior to ever opening their doors, or even finding a location, instead seeking guidance from the CID and DT2 first.

Dutchtown Shop: https://www.dutchtownstl.org/shop/product/dutchtown-proud-yard-sign/
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Combined with the nearby efforts along Meramec St. from the owners of Urban Eats to create a food hub in what is technically a food desert, the Neighborhood Innovation Center and its efforts to boost community engagement and innovation, the Thomas Dunn Learning Center, and more, the neighborhood is booming with activity and it is all connected. As St. Louis’ neighborhoods each individually find their footing in this century, perhaps the next challenge will be to expand the collaboration for a more unified city and region. St. Joseph Housing Initiative and Dutchtown more broadly have the foundation, the volunteers, and the potential to serve as a model for the region.

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Note: If you or your organization are working in St. Louis’ North or South neighborhoods on projects geared toward equity, inclusion, and revitalization, please reach out to Missouri Metro at missourimetro@gmail.com

2020 In Review | St. Louis Development Skyrockets & Our Top 10

It might come as a surprise that in 2020, a year that has been defined by a global pandemic, deeply negative and often anti-democratic politics, and unprecedented and unequal economic hardship, that St. Louis has been host to an absurdly productive and healthy year of economic development. As December comes to a close, there is a good chance that the city will surpass $1 billion in building permits. Second only to 2018, this year represents a continued growth of the St. Louis real estate market and a renewed sense of confidence for investors and locals alike.

Building Permits in St. Louis City – St. Louis, MO

2020 may also be remembered as the year in which St. Louis finally began making real progress in communities that have traditionally seen far less investment or attention. The region’s policy towards majority Black and Brown neighborhoods North of Delmar Blvd. could for decades be summarized by intentional neglect. Through redlining, restrictive covenants, urban renewal, predatory lending, and aggressive policing, populous neighborhoods declined significantly throughout the latter half of the 20th century and then some.

The results of institutional and cultural oppression don’t just disappear overnight, or for that matter, after decades. It takes real effort to support and uplift communities that were deliberately denied access to wealth, education, safety, and equality. A recent study of U.S. metro areas and their demographics and geography gives us a frightening glimpse of how far St. Louis still has to go. In 2017, St. Louis was determined to be the 10th most segregated metropolitan area in the United States, with 39.3% of its Black residents living in majority Black neighborhoods with 3.5x the poverty rate of white neighborhoods.

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In a remarkable and unusual turn for St. Louis, some developers appeared interested in proposing real developments in the region’s North side. Many of these, like the Delmar Divine, Kingsway Development’s plans at Delmar & Euclid, Jefferson + Gamble, and the NGA expansion bring much needed infrastructure improvements, affordable housing, community spaces, and jobs. There is a school of thought in St. Louis that the recent announcements are a result of North St. Louis “bottoming out”, something that regional leaders have historically seemed to exacerbate, and whether that is true or not, it seems apparent that the momentum is certainly shifting.

2020 also brings an exciting new era for Downtown St. Louis with multiple high-density residential proposals that would fill vacant land and surface-level parking lots. Even more surprising, we saw a new residential tower completed at Ballpark Village, new Class A office space, residential conversions for historical buildings, and companies moving from the county back into the city. After decades of stagnant Downtown STL development, even as our peer cities like Kansas City and Indianapolis saw impressive proposals and infill, St. Louis finally seems to be making headway in improving its Downtown core.

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As we all embrace the hope that comes with a new year, something to save us from some of the most tumultuous times in recent history, we can hopefully look forward to real progress in our region as we may finally be turning some important corners. Much work remains – activists must hold regional leaders accountable, medical personnel must keep working to curb the spread of a deadly virus, and Americans and St. Louisans must continue supporting one another and act responsibly to keep our neighbors safe. We will get through this. We have a better year on the horizon.

Until then, continue reading to see some of the most promising developments of 2020 that are poised to substantially change our region.

TOP 10 OF 2020

MISSOURI -METRO.COM

ONE | 100 Above the Park

Image found at Liveat100.com

100 Above the Park is the first tower designed by renowned architect Jeanne Gang in St. Louis, named the World’s Most Influential Architect of 2019 by Time Magazine. Rising 36 stories above Kingshighway and sporting direct, sprawling views of Forest Park and Downtown, 100 Above the Park brings perhaps the most luxurious residential units yet to the city and a unique geometric design. It also is one of the first new residential skyscrapers in the region, following the recent completion of Two Twelve Clayton just a few miles West in the County.

With studio, one, two, and three bedroom units ranging from $1,975 for a studio and over $7,000 for some three bedroom units, the building introduces a new price range for a city known for inexpensive housing prices. That said, the amenities, views, technology, design, location, and finishes go a long way toward justifying the high cost.

All units sport quartz countertops, 9″ ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, in-unit laundry, porcelain tile backsplashes, stainless steel appliances, custom solar shades, LED lighting, soft-close drawers, etc. Some units host humongous balconies overlooking the city and/or park, with the rest simply taking claim to some of the finest views in the city. Moreover, residents will have access to world-class amenities from a pool deck on the 7th floor to a secured parking garage, pet spa, electric car charging stations, secured bike stations, an onsite retail location (could be a café), covered dog run, and more. The building also is Green Globes certified for Sustainable and Energy Efficient Design.

100 Above the Park Under Construction – Brian Adler

St. Louis has long been known for some incredibly gorgeous and historical brick architecture, but we won’t complain one bit about a world-renowned architect completing a residential skyscraper on one of St. Louis’ most dense and active neighborhoods. 100 Above the Park definitely serves just a small subset of the population that can afford its units and lifestyle, but it is a good sign for a the city as it works to rebuild its economy and attract individuals and families to a region with a stagnant population. It is perhaps a sign of hope for an old city that hasn’t seen, until recent years, a sign of confidence that we are now beginning to get used to this year. We hope that incredible architecture and dense developments keep gracing St. Louis for years to come.

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TWO | Kingsway Development & Bridging the Delmar Divide

Kevin Bryant, President of Kingsway Development, recently unveiled a massive, $84 million development at the intersection of Euclid and Delmar Blvd. Looking to leverage the strength and momentum of the Central West End neighborhood and bring its success due North where investment abruptly ends, Bryant is taking aim at reducing vacancy, providing affordable housing, and creating a community of mixed income levels.

The project is predominantly located within the Fountain Park neighborhood, lying just North of the Central West End. In 2015, 84.4% of Fountain Park residents were Black, whereas just south of Delmar in the Central West End, only 29% of residents are Black. Despite its proximality to the CWE, it has seen its fortunes decline over the past several decades. Even as rents rise consistently just South of Delmar Blvd., the buildings in which Kingsway Development hope to redevelop mostly sit vacant.

The first phase will include a mix of rehabs and new construction for affordable housing, capitalizing on historic, vacant housing stock and filling in vacant lots. The first phase will include 22 affordable homes, below market-rate, aimed at creating a more “mixed”, dense neighborhood that residents of different incomes can enjoy. Bryant hopes to “set the precedent” with these homes, creating a model for other developers and investors to follow as he opens up later phases to other developers who go through their community approval process.

The first batch of construction will also include a $6.3 rehab of the building at 4731 Delmar Blvd. into office and commercial space, creating a more mixed-use neighborhood once each phase is built out. Late next year, perhaps the biggest portion of the project is slated to begin – a $43 million apartment complex, “The Bridge”, with 156 residential units. These units will add significant density to the Fountain Park neighborhood and fill out the vacant Northern section of the Euclid and Delmar intersection.

Rebuilding the North Side and responsibly tackling vacancy, affordable housing, and the lingering affects of segregation and oppression is vital to St. Louis and its future. This development will hopefully be a model for others to create diverse, mixed-income, and dense communities in neighborhoods that have seen little to no positive investment.

Read more in our coverage here.

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THREE | MLS Stadium

Dec. 2 Rendering of the St. Louis City SC Stadium – Image provided by St. Louis City SC

When St. Louis lost the Rams a few years ago in a bitter dispute still playing out in the courts today, there was a common sentiment that a passionate sports town was losing its steam. Thankfully, St. Louisans won’t have to wait long for a new sports team to remake its professional trifecta alongside the Cardinals and the Blues. A little over a year ago in August of 2019, the MLS announced that St. Louis would become the league’s 28th franchise. On August 13, 2020, the St. Louis MLS Expansion Team announced the team name and crest, officially introducing the St. Louis City SC to the city.

The project is moving very quickly, with a brand new stadium slated to be ready in time for the 2023 debut of the St. Louis City SC. Construction began in February on the site that will eventually seat up to 22.5 thousand guests and completely reshape Downtown West along Market St. The development will activate a less travelled section of Downtown, adding commercial retail space, infrastructure improvements, restaurants, and thousands of people to the neighborhood.

As can be seen in the rendering above, the project is more than the stadium itself. The proposal includes other new infill, including the corner building with a large terrace and commercial space on the left side of the photo. There will also be practice fields nearby that will host community soccer clinics and youth sports activities. The grand vision is to create a district comprising of bars, restaurants, concessions, retail, and open community spaces that will lead to street activation even on days without a game.

MLS Stadium with Union Station Wheel in the Background – St. Louis City SC

Located just west of the newly revitalized Union Station and at the end of the Mall that leads straight down market to the Courthouse and the Arch, the new MLS stadium will help create a unique attraction corridor built for walkability and activity. Combined with other recent developments like two residential proposals included in this article and new hotels sprouting up in Downtown West and Midtown, it appears the stadium is capping off a huge year for Downtown.

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Read more in our coverage here.

FOUR | The Changing Face of DeBaliviere

The Skinker-DeBaliviere and DeBaliviere Place neighborhoods are an excellent example of a dense, urban mix of residents across the income scale. Bordering Washington University, Forest Park, the Central West End, and Delmar Boulevard, the neighborhoods are home to those with extraordinary wealth to those with very little. The rapid growth of the Central West End and Washington University, however, have certainly been skewing the neighborhoods toward the wealthy end of that spectrum.

Three massive developments are underway right now, which will bring hundreds of expensive units and replace existing infrastructure. The three developments include The Chelsea on Pershing, the Expo at Forest Park on DeBaliviere, and The Hudson, also on DeBaliviere.

The Chelsea will rise seven stories above ground, add 152 apartments to the street, and several other impressive amenities. Some noteworthy additions include a two-story fitness center, “lobby bistro”, arcade bar, golf lounge, and even a rock-climbing wall. Lux Living hopes to open the Chelsea in late 2020, introducing some of the most unique apartments in St. Louis at one of the most uncertain times in recent history. Such a bet is supported, at least, by one of the most dense neighborhoods in St. Louis, rivaling even parts of New York City

The Hudson is set to bring added density and more options for residents in the city looking for a car-free lifestyle. With 150 units proposed and direct access to the Metrolink, residents will not need a car if they work within the central corridor or otherwise near a station. This is an amenity that, while growing in popularity in St. Louis, is still rather difficult to find given the limited size of the light-rail Metrolink. TOD is critical for good urban landscapes, helping people achieve healthier lifestyles, avoid traffic-filled commutes, and interact more with local businesses and their neighbors.

The Expo at Forest Park will be directly adjacent to the Metrolink platform as well, but will stretch down DeBaliviere all the way to Waterman as well as down De Giverville. This development is a behemoth, bringing 471,000 square feet of new construction and 287 new units, nearing the number of new apartments at the new One Hundred skyscraper in the Central West End. Current plans also call for 30,000 square feet of retail space across the two buildings (separated by De Giverville).

Read more in our coverage here.

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FIVE | City Foundry Phases I and II

Even though Phase I of the City Foundry hasn’t yet fully opened to the public, the food hall, retail space, soon-to-be grocery store, and offices are set to bring new life to the corner at Vandeventer and Forest Park Parkway. This stretch has seen significant investment over the past few years, with the city’s first IKEA, the new ELEMENT hotel by Westin, and the Standard St. Louis apartments. This is all part of a larger pattern of investment now reactivating St. Louis’ midtown corridor, bringing tons of new density, retail, and residential to the city.

The office space from the first phase is already 95% leased and open, giving The Lawrence Group confidence that there is real demand for their vision to continue. As CitySceneSTL reported earlier this December, the second phase is set to include two large structures pictured in the rendering above that will host:

  • Nearly 300 luxury residential units, many with balconies
  • Around 60,000 square feet of office space, complementing the over 100,000 square feet already built and leased
  • 20,000 additional square feet of retail space, some of which will be located on the ground floor of the parking structure activating Vandeventer and Forest Park Parkway
  • 490 parking spaces

The Lawrence Group hopes to begin construction on the second phase in the middle of 2021, hopefully at a time when guests may be able to safely begin patronizing the businesses like Punch Bowl Social and Alamo Drafthouse that make the first phase so exciting. The 14 story residential building, parking structure, and office space will also help complete the City Foundry, which always was intended to host a large residential component.

Read more in CitySceneSTL’s coverage here.

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SIX | Green Street & The Grove

We’ve covered a lot about how The Grove is seeing an incredible wave of new development here over the past few months. Huge developments like Hue@Chroma, the Arbor on Arco, the Grove Lofts (following the recent completion of 4400 Manchester just nextdoor), are joined by a new wave of commercial activity ranging from gourmet restaurant concepts to organic grocers and new coffee shops.

It turns out that these were just the tip of the iceberg. Developer Green Street has huge plans for The Grove and Forest Park Southeast, making a hew headquarters for themselves alongside hundreds of new residential and commercial infill. Moving from Clayton, Green Street is hoping to double down on the city and these particular neighborhoods, creating a lively district home to mixed-income families and fun concepts like BarK, a bar and dog park combo that will join the many new developments planned.

The largest singular element of the proposal is Green Street’s ‘Terra at the Grove’, described as “Chroma on Steroids’ by a member of their team. For those unfamiliar with Chroma, it is a large residential building at the East end of The Grove, featuring hundreds of apartments, retail storefronts including Seoul Taco and Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, and luxury amenities that has consistently been essentially full occupancy.

Terra will contain over 300 residential units and massive amenity spaces. It will have a 50,000 square foot courtyard and pool area, in addition to walking and running paths, a dog park and pet wash station, fitness and yoga studios, club and movie rooms, convenience store, and a playground. The apartment building will have nearly as many units as the humongous One Hundred on the Park skyscraper in the Central West End, all situated in the Southwest corner of The Grove.

However, Green Street also has six other developments planned in the neighborhood, dubbed the Union at the Grove, each with a unique style and size. Together they will completely transform the streetscape, filling empty lots and adding tons of density. The six buildings will be called Booker, Blake, Knox, Ashe, Iva, and Marshall – each pictured in the gallery below.

Together, they will have 163 residential units, in addition to the 300+ at Terra and the 100+ at the just completed Hue. They offer some of the most contemporary and urban architecture to be found in the city, and may well begin to resemble a neighborhood with similar density and walkability to the nearby Central West End.

We talk about gentrification all the time here, something that is a real concern but contextually different in St. Louis than other bigger and higher in demand cities. We believe that there is a lot of nuance to the topic, especially so when we are talking about projects with a massive scale that fundamentally reshape particular neighborhoods like is being proposed here. That being said, we do want to let our readers know that we have spoken to people at Green Street who emphasize a commitment to mixed-income neighborhoods and affordable solutions, something that they are also committing to with a new investment group dedicated to affordable housing and investment in low income communities.

We won’t say what the verdict is on this large and complicated discussion, but this development certainly will add lots of new activity and plenty of new residents to a growing and exciting neighborhood.

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SEVEN | Delmar Divine

St. Louis’ Delmar Divide has plagued the region for decades. A miles-long physical manifestation of a racial and economic divide spans the metropolitan area from East to West, separating communities and hindering investment North of the boulevard. 2021 seems to be the first year in a very long time that substantial investment has been aimed at resolving this this pervasive issue. The Delmar Divine will consist of national and local non profits, capacity building and social innovation organizations that improve the lives of children and families in the metropolitan St. Louis area.

Maxine Clark, Founder of Build-a-Bear Workshop is heading the redevelopment of the former St. Luke’s Hospital closed in 2014 on Delmar Blvd. The large site will see a humongous renovation that will bring over 150 apartments “reasonably” priced and aimed at young, diverse working professionals.

The Delmar Divine tenants will consist of national and local not for profits, capacity building and social innovation organizations that improve the lives of children and families in the metropolitan St. Louis area.

Delmar Divine – Home

Clark aims to create a space where innovative and social minded professionals and their organizations can gather and build off of one another. It will essentially function as an innovation hub for non-profits and social-good organizations, as well as additional space for retail with easy access to nearby public transportation. At the heart of the proposal is a dedication to removing the racial and economic barriers in St. Louis, helping organizations and individuals reach “solutions faster while being more cost efficient”.

Racial segregation is at the heart of many of St. Louis’ biggest and most pervasive issues, and an effort that combines the talents of our many hardworking, innovative, and social-focused individuals and organizations is one that deserves praise and recognition. We cannot wait to see this come to fruition on 2021.

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EIGHT | Blackline Investments 12 Unit Infill in Dutchtown

Blackline Investments is moving toward the first new infill in Gravois Park in several years. Capitalizing off of the vacant land next-door to their original rehab, Blackline is planning a 12-unit, two-story building that with a decidedly modern aesthetic. First reported by Chris Strizel and his CitySceneSTL website, this development manages to introduce new residential units without demolishing historic brick homes. Each unit will be a one bedroom in a shotgun style, with a small parking lot behind the structure.

Coupled with the restoration of “Downtown Dutchtown” along Meramec St., with businesses offering innovative concepts like the Urban Eats food hall or cute clothing boutiques, Dutchtown is building its own unique character and picking up steam. With its very own retail corridor, residential conversions, and affordable housing stock renovations coming from Rise, the stabilization is already well underway. The Dutchtown CID is providing infrastructural support to retail along the street, and the Neighborhood Innovation Center is setting up its own plans to invigorate and support the business community.

That Dutchtown and Gravois Park neighborhoods are seeing positive developments that support current residents, maintain and restore historic architecture, infill vacant lots, and increase density is something of a wonder for the city. With development having catered to predominantly wealthier individuals and staying primarily within the central corridor neighborhoods, many St. Louis communities saw very little outside investment and contributed to tax subsidies for projects that did not benefit their residents directly. This finally seems poised to change.

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NINE | 1014 Spruce St.

Image found on CitySceneSTL here and the LCRA November Agenda here

Opus Group’s proposal at 1014 Spruce St. is poised to bring 146 residential units to the heart of Downtown St. Louis, directly adjacent to the popular Start Bar and just a couple minutes from Busch Stadium. Filling a large, vacant lot with a productive and dense residential development is a remarkable feat for Downtown, which has long struggled to attract significant new infill.

The structure will also host a 3,000 sq. ft. commercial space along Spruce, depicted in the rendering above, that will further activate a busy street already used to large crowds. While one new residential proposal in a Downtown area might not seem like a big deal at first, it has been a long time since St. Louis’ urban core has seen dense infill. The area is still resolving vacancy issues, particularly in the office sector. That being said, Downtown’s residential occupancy has gone up considerably and leaves very few units available – indicating a market need that 1014 Spruce will help fill.

This is a phenomenal indicator for the city, and we can’t sait to see more like it.

Read more in Chris Stritzel’s coverage on CitySceneSTL here.

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TEN | 1801 Washington

Just North of the new MLS Stadium and on a lot currently used as parking for the iconic City Museum is the future site of 1801 Washington, a 184-unit multifamily proposal. First reported by CitySceneSTL, this apartment building will rise 7 stories and consist of over 5,000 sq. ft. of retail space fronting Washington Blvd. Parking will be in a hidden 220 space garage accessible from 19th and Lucas, allowing for a more consistent and activated corridor along Washington. The project is being developed by King Realty Advisors, an investment group that feels Downtown West has real momentum going forward.

There will also be just over 2,000 sq. ft. of retail space constructed on the 3rd floor, slated to become a restaurant or bar with a large outdoor terrace facing the street. This will likely help create a more exciting atmosphere along the already busy street, with activation both on the ground floor and above.

With 184 new residential units consisting of studio and 1 bedroom floorplans, 1801 Washington is poised to introduce some of the first new multifamily infill in Downtown and Downtown West. Moreover, it will replace a low-productivity parking lot with a dense, modern, and street-activating structure more well suited to a city and its urban core. The apartments are also going to be very modern, with granite countertops, in-unit washer and dryer, and individual balconies for each unit. There will also be a dog park and other amenity spaces like a beer tap, pool table, community kitchen, and more.

The apartment building itself is fairly consistent in terms of amenities with other new structures completed recently in the city and the county, with the exception of being located in a neighborhood that hasn’t seen new large-scale residential development in decades. This will significantly modernize and densify our urban core, and it hopefully represents a change in momentum for our city and its Downtown neighborhoods.

Read more on CitySceneSTL here.

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2020 still had way more to offer – check out our runner-ups below! 2020 was a phenomenal year for development, and we cannot wait to see what 2021 brings. Most importantly, we hope it is a year where our readers are safe, healthy, and happy, recovering from a year like we have never seen before. Thank you for reading.

Stay Safe & Stay Healthy.

Thank you for reading.

Missouri Metro Wishes you a Happy New Year.

How one STL Non-Profit is Rebuilding the Urban Fabric of Dutchtown one Rehab at a Time: A Glimpse at the St. Joseph Housing Initiative

Often in St. Louis, we lose sight of projects that don’t bring hundreds of luxurious units to a booming Central Corridor, repairing the city fabric that St. Louis chose to bulldoze in the 20th century. We see incredible, dense apartments proposed in The Grove, Downtown, and the Central West End, remarking that they surely are the solution to the last half century of population decline in the City of St. Louis.

They help, quite a lot, but St. Louis is far more than its Central Corridor, with neighborhoods like Dutchtown hosting the highest density of residents in the entire city per square mile. Here in Dutchtown, potential is everywhere, with a commercial corridor coming together on Meramec St. and an impressive set of architecturally significant homes. Yet, interspersed throughout are perhaps hundreds of abandoned homes and vacant lots.

Restoring St. Louis is a much more difficult task than people often realize, where hundreds of new units in the wealthiest neighborhoods do not make up for the hundreds, if not thousands of residents lost yearly in North/South St. Louis’ communities. Neighborhoods that experience disinvestment invite crime, turn away potential residents and investors, and create a community that sees despair instead of hope. In Dutchtown, the vacancy issue consumes more than just homes, with the gorgeous Cleveland High School sitting boarded up with broken windows and fire damage.

“If people are living in uninhabitable conditions, they move,”

Alderman Boyd, St. Louis Post Dispatch

Vacant schools and homes pose incredible harm to communities, not just in reducing safety, but also pushing other long-term residents out. Combined with dampened new investment, these neighborhoods end up in vicious feedback loops as families move to other neighborhoods or outside suburbs.

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This phenomenon is finally being tackled in St. Louis, both at the governmental and communities levels. With institutions like the LRA, city efforts like Prop N.S. that invests tens of millions in structural stabilization in low-income communities, and non-profits working tirelessly to reverse the feedback loop, progress is more visible than ever. One such non-profit, the St. Joseph Housing Initiative, is doing just that and more. Maureen McCuen, Executive Director of the SJHI, spent some time talking to Missouri Metro last week to detail their community-driven efforts to reduce vacancy, revitalize neighborhoods, and support new low-middle income homebuyers.

Our mission is to create vibrant communities through affordable quality housing where low and moderate income families can thrive, prosper and build wealth.

St. JOSeph HOUSING INITIATIVE

To accomplish its mission, the STJI works to rehabilitate vacant and historical properties in Dutchtown. McCuen emphasized that although Dutchtown holds incredible architectural assets and a diverse, densely populated community, it has a below average level of owner-occupied homes when compared to St. Louis City and Missouri more broadly.

As many of our readers know intimately, home ownership can often come with many surprises. We discussed in a recent article how low-income and predominantly Black communities in St. Louis have experienced predatory mortgages that purposefully leave out interest, insurance, and property taxes resulting in a massive and unexpected bill at the end of the year. Even without discriminatory and predatory lending, mortgages require a history of good credit and are but one of many expenses attributed to home ownership.

A Recently Renovated Home on Itaska Ave. – St. Joseph Housing Initiative

When purchasing a home, most buyers will have an inspector tour the property and identify potential problems with major home systems and interior assets. Even then, the most capable and experienced inspectors can miss major items and even if something looks perfect, systems can simply just break, particularly if they are old, without any sign of defects.

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That is why it is common to have unexpected and often expensive repairs in the first couple years of ownership. For families or individuals without a safety net or substantial savings, these issues can threaten their ability to sufficiently maintain the home or, worse, might threaten their other financial obligations should they choose to get the issue fixed. Perhaps it might be a leaky roof, broken water heater, dying A/C compressor, or the need to tuck point (replace mortar between bricks), each of which might result in a $1,000.00+ bill.

Work on the Itaska Ave. Property – St. Joseph Housing Initiative

Although these homes are intended for low-middle income families, St. Joseph Housing Initiative works to make sure that the interior finishes and amenities are durable, modern, and welcoming. While they might not find granite countertops or other luxury materials, the homes are well above average and, in my experience as a former REALTOR®, downright refreshing in homes of this price range. The kitchens sport stainless steel appliances and the houses have gorgeous decks, nice vinyl flooring, and open concept interiors worthy of an HGTV short.

St. Joseph Housing Initiative seeks to ease the transition for their buyers, making sure that they touch every single major system in the home, leaving no major surprises that might mean financial ruin for their buyers. Combined with their credit consulting, they have introduced an innovative initiative dubbed the “First Neighbor” program, which introduces the new hombuyers to their new neighbors McCuen describes this program as a thorough effort to ensure that their buyers are successful and integrated into the community.

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The First Neighbor program is a group of current residents that support their new neighbors and maintain a long-term relationship with the new buyers. They serve as friends and mentors, and the group contains a variety of skills, talents, and interests among its members that can help their neighbors in a pinch. For the families or individuals that have never mowed a lawn before, they’ll find the necessary tools and mentorship handy through the program. Or, if they don’t know how to hang something on a plaster wall or when the dumpsters are emptied, they will find all the answers they need.

Dutchtown is a large neighborhood, so one home here or there might not feel like a substantial difference. With that in mind, St. Joseph Housing Initiative is working to cluster their properties together. As a cluster, the multiple homes together are able to create a better feeling of security and contribute to a better, more hopeful built environment free of broken windows and vacant properties. The hope is that this will continue to reverse the feedback loop that had for so long forced residents away.

St. Joseph Housing Initiative is looking to complete its 8th home in the start of 2021, and their goal is to rehabilitate 10 homes by the end of the year. Powered by volunteers and 100% funded through donations, the St. Joseph Housing Initiative has a bold and comprehensive plan that McCuen hopes will keep growing and make a tangible difference in the city. Providing a safe, healthy, and inspiring home and surrounding environment for their buyers is at the core of their mission. Combined with the efforts of neighboring groups and non-profits, Dutchtown is ready for a renaissance, and it will be one of its own making.

If you are interested in donating to or volunteering with the St. Joseph Housing Initiative, visit their website here. Missouri Metro thanks McCuen and the SJHI for taking part in our latest Dutchtown feature and for their hard, dedicated work to revitalize St. Louis communities.

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Cross Grand and the Small Business Revitalization of Dutchtown

Chip and Tasha Smith are here to stay. “I can see the future”, said Chip, as he gazed in wonder at his extravagantly remodeled storefront in the heart of Downtown Dutchtown on Meramec Ave. Living just steps from their store, Chip and Tasha could not be more bullish on their neighborhood. Chip, a photographer and artist by trade, has South City in his bones. Tasha even serves on the DT2 (Downtown Dutchtown) Board, influencing decisions that support local businesses, community events, and infrastructure.

Editor’s Note: The photos taken for this piece are sure to pale in comparison to what Chip is capable of.

For nearly a decade, Chip has been building his photography and videography business. It was only 10 years ago that he bought his first camera, and here Chip sat in a chic, modern studio of his own making. Brand new flooring, popping colors, wood accented walls, and a classic old South St. Louis ceiling grace a location that those just wandering in might expect in a New York City boutique. Much of the work came from the Smith Family’s own sweat, with Chip, Tasha, and their children putting in dozens of hours of physical and creative energy. Chip even put in many of the floorboards himself, save where sloped flooring posed a challenge more suitable for a general contractor than a photographer.

Chip and Tasha Smith

“Cross Grand represents where I am from”

Chip Smith

According to Chip, there has never been a better time to be starting a business in Dutchtown. With the Community Improvement District (CID), Downtown Dutchtown, and Neighborhood Innovation Center nearby, there is a large group of community-oriented individuals collaborating to support the neighborhood. Coupled with the incredible amount of development nearby and beginning to spill into Dutchtown itself, the “South Sider” Chip witnessed all these architecturally gorgeous buildings and storefronts and saw nothing but potential. Then he met the people and the community in Dutchtown, one of St. Louis’ most dense communities in terms of population, and saw the value of a strong and supportive community, both in terms of the residents nearby and the support infrastructure described above.

Every step of the way, Cross Grand found encouragement and support from the Dutchtown community. John Chen, founder of the Neighborhood Improvement Center just a block further East on Meramec, has advised on certain elements of the project and provided as much support as he can as the owner of the building.

The potential of Dutchtown is readily apparent as soon as you enter the neighborhood. There is an expansive infrastructure already in place comprised of incredible, historical housing stock, a walkable street grid, businesses that have been around for nearly a century, and critical retail corridors on Grand and Meramec. The Meramec corridor in particular evokes a similar feeling to Manchester in parts of The Grove, or even parts of Maplewood. A dense cluster of restaurants, boutiques, and age-old retailers sit in 100+ year old, brick-clad buildings with mansard roofs with ample room for outdoor dining.

Cross Grand Studio- Brian Adler

That’s not to say that they didn’t need to put in the work to make their storefront shine. To see the incredible transformation of the space, look no further than these photos Chip provided of the space before they saw its true potential. Drop ceiling hid the gorgeous ceiling pattern visible today, and the floor was in need a complete refresh. Perhaps someone could have envisioned an office or small store, but to imagine and create the Instagram-worthy color scheme and modern aesthetics is a true feat.

With Cross Grand, Chip and Tasha are combining their interests into a full service experience for creators like themselves in Dutchtown. Chip now does most of the video and photography work in the community, with many of his photos available on the Downtown Dutchtown website. Tasha, with lots of events in the small event world, and Chip with photography and videography, found that they could create a space that catered to both needs. They plan to bring other neighborhood creators into the studio in addition to the members of the community they hope will view their work, take photos, or hold small events there.

Chip hopes that the curated space will be a destination for nearby residents to get creative and see themselves in a new light. Far from only shooting weddings, Cross Grand will offer photo sessions, photo books, and event space. Chip is also looking for ways to capitalize off of the unique style that’s new to the Dutchtown neighborhood. Whether it is featuring the work of local artists or perhaps catering to a podcast and vlogger community, Cross Grand has a special space and a set of services that Dutchtown previously lacked.

Cross Grand Studio- Brian Adler

Grateful for their community support from the CID, DT2, Thomas Dunn, and the Neighborhood Innovation Center, Cross Grand owners Chip and Tasha are plainly excited to finally bring their dream to the community. To have a space to bring clients besides Starbucks, meet their neighbors who just walk in the door, and to show their kids the product of hard work are things that make Chip extremely proud and eager about this space.

The Grand Opening

Cross Grand is set to open to the public this Wednesday, October 21 with a Grand Opening and After Hours Happy Hour co-hosted by Downtown Dutchtown. The event will feature Chip’s first photo book, a Dutchtown/Cross Grand hoodie collaboration on display, a drummer playing live music, and possibly discounted packages in addition to the hoodies and photos being on sale. Members of the Dutchtown community and beyond are encouraged to stop by and witness all that Cross Grand has to offer. The Facebook event can be found here, and you can find more information about the event on Downtown Dutchtown’s website as well here. The event will take place from 5:30 to 7:00 PM and visitors are encouraged to meet neighbors and stick around for a drink.

“Cross Grand is here to stay. We are going to add value to this neighborhood.”

Chip Smith

Small business entries speak volumes about a neighborhood’s trajectory, and their value is even higher in the middle of an elongated Pandemic. Cross Grand is a project that rose from the community itself. It does not pad the pockets of national developer groups bringing in luxury units with no affordable housing, raze historical architecture, or displace other residents or businesses. That may sound like a low bar, but often developments in St. Louis do all those things, and while they can still offer plenty of intrinsic benefits, real neighborhood improvement and community stabilization comes from within and supports its residents.

Small businesses are the heart of truly equitable economic development that lifts communities up. The infrastructure provided in Dutchtown by community organizations is beginning to show what it is capable of. Combined with the incredible built environment, the nearby ecosystem is poised to keep pushing Dutchtown in the right direction with a focus on a community driven approach. While not as flashy as a 300-unit tower or several phase development, small businesses driven and supported by their communities have an incredible impact and make urban areas shine.

Cross Grand Entry – Brian Adler

Thank you for joining Missouri Metro on the first edition of our Small Business Series

A Changing South City: Development Renaissance Headed to More Neighborhoods

South St. Louis is seeing a host of development and infill, leading with neighborhoods like The Grove and Benton Park which are practically in a renaissance. With new, sometimes controversial luxury apartments in The Grove and home sales in Benton Park seeing sky high prices and bidding wars, these neighborhoods are showing a resilience and desirability factor reversing a half-century long real estate trend. And yet, other communities have yet, until now, to experience the same waterfall of investment despite their incredible architectural assets, diversity, and density.

St. Louis’ long history of population decline, led primarily by “white flight” in the second half of the 20th century, has turned dense neighborhoods upside down and left homes in abandon. Forest Park Southeast, oddly enough, saw the greatest population loss in South City from 1950-2017, according to Downtown Dutchtown. Yet, despite those losses, Forest Park Southeast is also seeing some of the most rapid growth amidst its recent rebound, likely due to its proximity to the Manchester retail corridor, the Cortex, and the Central West End.

Then there is Dutchtown, which experienced a severe population loss, but nothing like some of the more stable and popular neighborhoods we see today like Shaw and Forest Park Southeast. It goes against conventional wisdom to see that it is struggling more than its peers despite of its relative historical population stability.

However much neighborhoods like Dutchtown and Gravois Park have struggled to grow in the way other communities have been able to, the efforts of community groups and residents to stabilize homes and businesses has begun to pay off. A CID – Community Improvement District, a Neighborhood Innovation Center, and the relentless work of community building has begun to turn the tide on population loss in Dutchtown. Similarly, the strength of the Cherokee Street retail corridor and Benton Park housing market has added stability to Gravois Park, which has also benefited from rich architectural assets and population decline not as severe as some other neighborhoods.

With their newfound stability and proximity to neighborhoods experiencing rapid growth, development is beginning to spill over toward Dutchtown and Gravois Park. With that said, change is not always positive. It is fairly common for luxury housing stock to replace low-income housing, both replacing residents and the historical architectural character of a community. Even though the most recent studies on gentrification suggest that there was no sign of “large-scale departure of elderly or long-term homeowners” in their Philadelphia experiment, they recognize a higher risk of tax delinquency for those long-term residents. Studies that have now been around a few years show that gentrifying neighborhoods lose their affordable units at five times the rate as non-gentrifying neighborhoods. There are also benefits noted by both studies, including better quality of life and services like education, safety, higher property values, access to groceries, etc.

While the academic consensus is somewhat mixed on gentrification, it is still a process that should be considered thoughtfully by developers and urban enthusiasts in this context. Those cheering the introduction of predominantly luxury units in Gravois Park would have to acknowledge that the most tangible benefits would largely exclude current residents, with the service and quality of life benefits coming into play in the long-term. A better solution would be affordable units with attractive amenities, perhaps even utilizing the already existent housing stock. This is a tough pill to swallow for some developers – as profit margins are necessarily smaller and returns are less guaranteed, but that does not mean it is impossible.

3600 Texas pre-rehab – St. Louis Post Dispatch

Just ask Blackline Investments or Garcia Properties, and they’ll point to a path forward in these communities. In Gravois Park, developer Blackline Investments accomplished a restoration on 3600 Texas Ave (shown above), a former publishing building. Blackline converted the vacant historic structure into 15 updated apartments with higher quality features, with rents ranging from $765 to $1,195. These are far cry from the rents seen elsewhere like in the Central Corridor neighborhoods, remaining within the market range for Gravois Park, only with updates that provide more and better residential options.

The Restored 3600 Texas Ave – Blackline

Blackline Investments seems to now be moving toward the first new infill in Gravois Park in several years as well. Capitalizing off of the vacant land next-door to their original rehab, Blackline is planning a 12-unit, two-story building that with a decidedly modern aesthetic. First reported by Chris Strizel and his CitySceneSTL website, this development manages to introduce new residential units without demolishing historic brick homes. Each unit will be a one bedroom in a shotgun style, with a small parking lot behind the structure.

There is a zoning request to reclassify the land for multi-family usage, in addition to a 10-year, 95% tax abatement. The current assessed value of the land is $4,330 and the construction costs are anticipated to be $950,000. The low cost is likely attributed to the attractive costs of acquiring and maintaining property in Dutchtown.

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There are bound to be reasonable questions about the request for a tax abatement. In fact, developer requests and subsequent approvals of TIFs (Tax Incremented Financing) were recently subject to an audit by State Auditor and candidate for Missouri Governor, Nicole Galloway. Her report found that St. Louis lacks a standardized policy for awarding TIFs and often grants them to developers proposing projects in the wealthiest parts of the city. The audit grants legitimacy to arguments of advocates within the city who have long criticized the city for its method of granting awards to developers.

With that being said, a tax abatement in a neighborhood like Gravois Park seems as though it might accomplish what advocates have long hoped for. In a decidedly developing neighborhood that has seen little previous investment, a tax abatement is perhaps necessary for a developer to break even or make a profit. In a project like this one, the units would seem to also benefit members of the community by not pricing nearby residents out of the new units or by demolishing nearby structures.

These two projects alone would be enough to turn some heads about where development is shifting in South City, but a third major renovation is poised to revitalize the edge of Gravois Park at the intersection of Grand and Gravois. This is a notoriously busy intersection with large streets, but the built environment is full of potential.

The South Side National Bank Tower, depicted in the photo to the right of the map below, was nearly demolished in favor of a Walgreens at the turn of the 20th century. Preservationists balked at the plan, and the Lawrence Group and West End Realty began a rehabilitation project to convert the upper units into condominiums and restore the commercial spaces at street level. Although the project was a huge victory for urbanism and historic preservation, the intersection still struggles today. However, just across the street sits the Grandview Arcade Building, a former theater with a gorgeous façade.

Grandview Arcade Building – Google Street View

In 2018, Garcia Properties acquired the building pictured above after plans to rehabilitate it under The Lawrence Group did not come to fruition. Garcia properties hoped to break ground on a renovation in 2019, but the project had gone silent until just this month. The delay sparked fears that this project would end up going nowhere, but finally the plan resurfaced with a solid path forward.

It turned out that the holdup had occurred in the State of Missouri’s Historic Tax Credit office, although the credits were finally granted. The office had seen major cuts under former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, and projects like these are the victims. Garcia Properties wrote on Instagram that the project is not “out of the woods yet”, suggesting there is much difficult work ahead given the rough shape of the building.

The Grandview Arcade is no small project. Combined with Blackline’s residential developments on the East side of Gravois Park, these developments represent a turning point offering both residential and commercial additions that add to rather than subtract from the neighborhood. With historical preservation, renovation, and infill on vacant lots, they offer up a type of neighborhood revitalization that avoids some of the more negative methods like demolition and a sole focus on luxury housing and little for current residents.

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A similar process is beginning to play out in Dutchtown, with renovations capitalizing off of its current historical and structural assets. In fact, Blackline Investments is about to undertake a rehabilitation of a school at 4021 Iowa Ave. The former St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School will likely become 25 market-rate apartments, part of a $4.9 million renovation.

School-to-apartment conversions are all the rage across the city, made possible by the St. Louis Public School system having experienced a large decline in the number of students over the past several decades. As a result, a number of schools have become up vacant and abandoned, with many in poor condition and in need of major work.

Dutchtown is home to two of these vacant schools. The former St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School (pictured on the left) is the more readily useable, and the former Cleveland High School (right) in a more dire state. The latter has suffered fires, innumerable break ins, and is boarded up, covered in ivy, and showcasing windows upon windows of broken glass.

Although the former Cleveland High School is in rough shape, things appear to be headed in the right direction. Dutchtown is seeking proposals for the site, and rehabs are picking up steam of smaller residential properties within the neighborhood. An active proposal for one of two abandoned schools speaks volumes about the demand present in the community, and also lays the groundwork for a future redevelopment of the former Cleveland High School should it be successful.

Coupled with the restoration of “Downtown Dutchtown” along Meramec St., with businesses offering innovative concepts like the Urban Eats food hall or cute clothing boutiques, Dutchtown is building its own unique character and picking up steam. With its very own retail corridor, residential conversions, and affordable housing stock renovations coming from Rise, the stabilization is already well underway. The Dutchtown CID is providing infrastructural support to retail along the street, and the Neighborhood Innovation Center is setting up its own plans to invigorate and support the business community.

Meramec St. – Downtown Dutchtown – Google Street View

That Dutchtown and Gravois Park are seeing positive developments that support current residents, maintain and restore historic architecture, infill vacant lots, and increase density is something of a wonder for the city. With development having catered to predominantly wealthier individuals and staying primarily within the central corridor neighborhoods, many St. Louis communities saw very little outside investment and contributed to tax subsidies for projects that did not benefit their residents directly.

Hopefully these projects are the beginning a more inclusive style of restoration that more communities can be a part of. They demonstrate the intrinsic value of St. Louis’ historic housing stock, which when cared for, can become the building block for a community’s revival. They also showcase a very positive usage of tools available like Historic Tax Credits and tax abatements, bolstering neighborhoods that need the help and filling a market gap for developers where a gap actually exists. Developments in Clayton, for example, are far less likely to be in need of tax assistance when the community is majority high-income and demand is strong.

St. Louis communities have so much to offer, even those outside the central corridor. Density, diversity, and historical character are valuable and it seems that truth is set to finally revitalize South City in a more equitable manner.

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