Near North St. Louis Chosen for $29.5M HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant

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For decades St. Louis has been a big winner in the race to secure federal funding. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Interstate highways, Pruitt-Igoe and public housing, urban renewal, river commerce…for better and sometimes worse, St. Louis has attracted significant federal dollars to address local issues.

Today U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro announced the next big federal award, a $29.5M Choice Neighborhood implementation grant. Other cities among the 34 applicants to be chosen were Boston, Camden, Denver, and Louisville.

In September, St. Louis was announced as a finalist. To arrive at that point required more than 100 public and planning meetings. In March a Near North Side Master Plan (PDF) was presented by project partners the City of St. Louis, McCormack Baron Salazar, and Urban Strategies. That plan focused on codifying a neighborhood vision and identifying development partners.

It was this process, the designation of the area as Promise Zone and a Department of Justice innovation grant, and the coming $2B NGA project that led to the award. Clearly these projects, though not coordinated, do feed off and support one another. The DOJ grant is a $1M three-year award to address crime and public safety in the Carr and Columbus Square neighborhoods.

A visual guide to understanding plans for the Preservation Square apartment complex from the Near North Side Master Plan presentation, March 2016:

What’s coming as a direct result of today’s announced award is the remaking of Preservation Square, a Section 8 apartment complex. The area will see a reduction in overall housing units, renovation and new construction, as well as a restored street grid. This part of the project is innovative in several ways, but the planned reduction in housing density should be rethought.

As the city continues planning for a hoped-for north-south light rail line, increasing density, including in Preservation Square, should be the goal. Here, the particulars of the redevelopment plan, and the reintroduction of some city streets, presents a challenge in adding and maintaining density, and yet it can be done, and again, should be the goal.

The plan for the new Preservation Square imagines a reduction of 317 housing units from the current 675, than an addition of 204. While final numbers are not set, the HUD announcement states that Preservation Square will total 555 units once completed. Another 140 mixed-income units will be completed with the renovation of a nearby building called the Brewery. The specific building and address are not specified.

{superblocks identified by the Near North Side Transformation Plan}

{existing street closures identified by the Near North Side Transformation Plan}

While Preservation Square is the housing project at the center of the HUD Choice Neighborhood plan, the city hopes to support bigger adjacent initiatives. The north-south rail line, and plans for a bicycle-pedestrian greenway are included in plan objectives.

According to the draft Near North Side Transformation Plan (PDF), long-vacant Carr School would be renovated as a community center and new recreation center would be constructed on an adjacent site. The Downtown Y, which has been the closest operation recreational facility for neighborhood residents could operate the facility.

{the Preservation Square redevelopment plan calls for updated and varied architectural design}

{a new community park would be created at the heart of Preservation Square}

While the announcement is big news for St. Louis, and several important projects now have the green light, it’s not clear what the larger implications are for NorthSide Regeneration, developer Paul McKee’s 1,500-acre redevelopment zone. With NGA, some small developments along 14th Street, the light rail effort, and more, there are as many moving pieces as there are vacant lots. But perhaps the Choice Neighborhood award will jumpstart more focused and smart development of the area that is set to change more than any other in St. Louis in the coming decade.

[HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant Announcement 2016 – St Louis]

The HUD award announcement:

Project Overview: The City of St. Louis has been awarded a $29.5 million FY2016 Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant for the Near North Side neighborhood. Located directly north of downtown St. Louis, the Near North Side is cut off from downtown by warehouses, vacant parcels, and the distressed Preservation Square project-based Section 8 housing development. With a FY2014 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant, the City of St. Louis, Urban Strategies, and their partners created a plan to revitalize the Near North Side. Armed with their strategic, community plan and a Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant, the City and their partners will create 695 new mixed-income housing units; re-purpose historic but blighted properties into housing, retail, and commercial uses; increase access to loans for small businesses and homeowners; improve access to healthy foods; and offer evidence-based education and employment opportunities.

Committed leverage: Housing Leverage Committed: $16.2 million People Leverage Committed: $50.6 million Neighborhood Leverage Committed: $10.1 million Additional Neighborhood Investment: $2.1 billion

Neighborhood Background & Vision: The City of St. Louis, Missouri, in partnership with McCormack Baron Salazar and Urban Strategies, will use $29.5 million in Choice Neighborhoods funding to help the Near North Side neighborhood regain the level of stability and vibrancy it once possessed as a primary gateway to downtown St. Louis. Although adjacent to downtown, massive multi-block warehousing operations and vacant or underutilized properties fragment the neighborhood from the downtown grid. The street grid is also broken within the super-blocks of the distressed Preservation Square housing complex, further isolating the community from the rest of the neighborhood and downtown.

Despite these challenges, the City, Urban Strategies Inc. and other dedicated neighborhood stakeholders have been laying the foundation for change. Through a 2014 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant residents, community stakeholders, and institutional partners worked together to design robust strategies that build on assets and address the neighborhood’s most critical challenges. The resulting Transformation Plan has become a catalyst for community action and the central organizing platform.

The Near North Side neighborhood is also part of the St Louis Promise Zone designation and has since become the target of a Department of Justice Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant. Partly because of these planning efforts, the City has been successful in attracting the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) $1.8 billion western headquarters to locate just outside the Near North Side in an underdeveloped area.

The award of the new Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant will ensure that this game-changing investment and the efforts of local leaders and community stakeholders catalyze transformation in the Near North Side. The Choice Neighborhoods award and additional leverage will fund the redevelopment of the distressed Preservation Square housing complex, a development of 342 project-based Section 8 units. A total of 555 mixed-income units in garden-style apartments and townhouses will be renovated or constructed on-site, with a restored street grid and contemporary designs. Another 140 mixed-income units will be created through the renovation of a historic building called The Brewery, which also aims to attract millennials and employees of NGA whose new headquarters will be a block away.

Through a network of high-capacity local partners, the City and Urban Strategies will ensure families are able to achieve their education, health, and employment goals. Local workforce partners and community colleges will offer coordinated services, including job readiness training; hard skills training in child care, healthcare, manufacturing, and
small business development; and job placement, retention, and advancement supports. Financial counseling will be offered to help families build their credit and savings. St. Louis Public Schools along with local early learning, after school, and community college partners will implement a cradle to college/career pipeline.

The resurgence of the Near North Side will also depend on increasing the quality of neighborhood housing; boosting retail and business opportunities; improving access to quality food; and increasing access to family centered activities. The City of St. Louis will lead these efforts, including providing home improvement loans to low- and moderate-income homeowners; converting a vacant historic school building into a dynamic community center; and partnering with a mobile grocery store to sell fresh foods while planning to attract a full-scale grocery store as the neighborhood develops. A cornerstone of the neighborhood revitalization plan is to bring 7 live-work housing units and 2,400 square feet of commercial space along the 14th Street corridor, offering families opportunities to start businesses and easing the entry costs for businesses locating or expanding in the Near North Side.

  HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant Announcement 2016 – St. Louis by nextSTL.com on Scribd

A visual tour of Carr School – all images by Paul Sableman:

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  • Brian Ireland

    On the heels of eminent domain booting people from their homes courtesy of NGA comes news that the number of affordable housing units at Preservation Square will be reduced. As usual in STL, the poor are getting kicked in the teeth in the name of “development.”

    • STLrainbow

      Could you elaborate on that? My understanding is that the number of low-income replacement units in the targeted area has to be the same for the Neighborhood Choice program.

      • STLrainbow

        I should say, there will be a reduction in the current site but my understanding is that they need to be made up elsewhere in the targeted area. Do we know they will not be?

        • Brian Ireland

          According to the report, a net loss of 317 Section 8 housing units. There will be subsequent “mixed-use” construction, but that won’t benefit the most vulnerable in this complex. It’s being done in the name of a bicycle path, among other things. Not good, imo.

          • STLrainbow

            Thanks; if I understand the program correctly, those 317 Sec 8 units lost within the Preservation Square footprint will have to be made up elsewhere in the targeted Neighborhood Choice area. It’s somewhat like the public housing units in the Blumeyer tower being made up for in the nearby North Sarah development. But I’ll try to double check what’s going on, as any loss of low income would be a concern.

          • Alex Ihnen

            I missed any mention of a bicycle path replacing part of Preservation Square. If so though, it would great given that well more than 20% or North City residents don’t has access to a car.

          • Brian Ireland

            You’re correct in that it isn’t a direct trade-off. But the overhaul of this site will result in less affordable housing. In its place will be pet projects like a bicycle/pedestrian path and MetroLink expansion. Those things are nice, but not quite as nice as having a roof over your head.

          • jhoff1257

            When 20% of people in one part of the city don’t have access to a car, upgraded pedestrian amenities, which is a city objective, not part of the Preservation Square rebuild, and improved mass transit are not “pet projects.” Also MetroLink isn’t taking the place of a single unit. Preservation Square’s rebuild would be completed long before we ever see a Metro expansion, which would run down the center of 14th Street…not through Preservation Square.

            Also the reduction in housing is closer to 120 units. 317 will be removed in the initial reworking and reopening of the street grid (which is wonderful, considering current residents have described preservation square as prison-like) and then 204 new units would be built. While I agree that there should be an increase in units overall, this isn’t nearly as bad as you’re making it out to be. There were over 100 public planning meetings for this. My guess is the plan we’re seeing here had significant input from the people that actually live in this area.

          • Brian Ireland

            I’m quite sure the people living in one of those 120 units can’t wait for a bike trail.

          • jhoff1257

            They’re not waiting for it…as it’s been pointed out several times already the rebuild of Preservation Square doesn’t involve any bike trails at all…

          • Goat314

            Choice Neigborhoods has been accused of being a tool of gentrification in other cities, specifically New Orleans. I’ve been to several CN and I can tell you that these housing units are going to be very nice. Probably even nicer than the North Sarah project, which is also a very nice development. The goal of CN is to decentralize poverty and make neighborhoods that anybody regardless of income would “choose” to live in, hence than name “Choice” Neighborhoods. It is indeed a tool used to spur gentrification in key neighborhoods and HUD has not kept this a hidden agenda.

    • Tom

      Sadly practices like eminent domain are common no matter where you go in the United States. Why should it be expected that Saint Louis will be any different.

  • TimJim

    Wondering what, if any impact the new administration and HUD secretary-designee Dr. Ben Carson might have on this project.

  • LiverpoolSTL

    I was wondering if there has been any discussions going on about what will happen to the north riverfront property now that a stadium will not be built there? It would probably be a big help to Bissinger’s to have more development around their masterfully renovated headquarters. Restarting the conversation to remove the highway between the Stan Span and the Poplar would also be another conversation that hopefully comes up soon as well. Also, what is the plan for the Pruitt-Igoe area? Opening the street grid and adding a heartbeat (community park) to the housing complex and a community center will be a boon to the area as well.

    • Alex Ihnen

      There’s this, as a sort of a fallback, though it preceded the stadium idea: https://nextstl.com/2015/07/north-riverfront-vision-offers-ideas-with-or-without-nfl-stadium/

      • LiverpoolSTL

        Thank you so much Alex, I think this would be a great addition to everything else that is happening downtown. It is just very depressing when I drive back in from visiting my parents in Southern Illinois to see the empty, degrading factory buildings on prime riverfront properties that are prime for redevelopment, however, I like most other people can only hope someone with the money and means will take on these projects. Very glad to see Great Rivers Greenway is involved. Also, hopefully a new mayor coming in will see the benefits of removing the raised highway cutting off downtown from the riverfront and convert it to an at-grade boulevard reconnecting the street grid with the riverfront.

  • RyleyinSTL

    Love to see Carr restored. I’d honestly thought it was to far gone for rescue.

    These huge section 8 complexes always seem to head downhill regardless of the configuration. There are MANY reasons for this but in my experience the lack of socioeconomic diversity is a huge factor. We need to attract people from all walks to the Near North to ensure it’s long term success. A healthy community needs some members who aren’t fighting every day just to cover their basic needs. Folks with the ‘luxury’ of attending to the cosmetic, social and safety issues are needed as well. Isn’t it possible to successfully mix market rate with subsidized housing? All or nothing isn’t working.

    I’m happy to see more attention focused on aesthetically pleasing buildings. It may seem trivial to some but the current buildings (I’ve been in a few) are of the most basic and sad construction. Similar to the lowest common denominator tract housing you’d find out by Fenton. Nicer buildings can generate more interest in upkeep/pride from residents.

    Additionally, I’m beyond pleased to see the restoration of the street grid. It is comforting to know that omeone, somewhere, actually gets it.

    • tbatts666

      Agreed. In Lasalle Park we seem to get a lot of crime originating from these section 8 complexes. Shootings, carjackings, armed robberies. They lack socioeconomic diversity, lack opportunity. They are places unloved, that people can only want to leave. Totally inorganic. Totally anti-urban.

      We should stop building things that concentrate povert. We should be considering breaking the large ones up entirely.

    • Patrick Goodson

      Preservation Square, because of it’s current size, is a hot bed of crime. Many pizza delivery co.’s won’t deliver there. While I think Section 8’s certainly play a role in our society and we need them, we don’t always need big ones, as you said. Crime of often overlooked at this stage of the planning. Nothing you put in that area now will be successful until the area can lower it’s crime rate.

  • Goat314
    • STLrainbow

      The Brewery Apartments are in the old Falstaff complex at 20th and Howard on the other side of Cass… very close to the NGA site in St. Louis Place. It’s a McCormack Baron mixed-income property. I believe the reference is just for renovation of that existing property but not positive.

  • John

    Good news for St. Louis. I hope all of the redevelopment efforts in and around the Promise Zone can align and achieve synergy. It would be great to see residents “adopt a block” for upkeep, litter clean-up, and beautification projects.