Great Things Are Happening In City’s Gravois Park Neighborhood

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Great things are happening in Gravois Park. So read the sign at the corner of Potomac Street and Louisiana Avenue, planted in the northwest corner of Gravois Park.

Gravois Park, the neighborhood is just south of several “hot” city neighborhoods nearer Tower Grove Park. The neighborhood is just east of the Gravois Divide (gash, gulch, gap…?) a demarcation of race and wealth increasingly marked by Gravois Avenue. Gravois Park is just north of what are considered the stable neighborhoods adjacent to Carondelet Park.

Too often, if you read a story about Gravois Park, it likely included the word “crime”. This is changing with several significant development projects. The area has already seen increased building permit activity, and vacant homes no longer skip through the Sheriff’s auction, defaulting to city ownership as they once did. But these smaller investments often pass unnoticed and can be harder to quantify.

Large vacant buildings have a disproportionate negative impact on the perception of a neighborhood. They are obvious signs of neglect, of disinvestment. The vacant schools, warehouses, and other buildings overshadow more fine-grained successes. The reuse of large vacant buildings is generally, symbolically at the very least, the mark of more, and more varied, investment to come.

The Gravois Park neighborhood:

Cherokee Street is the northern border of Gravois Park, and the success of that commercial district is spreading. And so more investment is likely coming to the Gravois Park neighborhood after a long period of a downward trend in overall investment. Recently, Rise and Lutheran Development Group have made big investments in the area with the Chippewa Park scattered site development. LDG, also recently closed on two significant properties, both formerly owned by Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

Better yet, building permits have been issued for both, a $1,059,682 permit approved for 3636 Ohio, and a $823,000 permit approved for the renovation of 3636 Texas. The school building on Ohio will be home to the 4th Eagle College Prep school in St. Louis, while the property sitting between Texas and Jefferson will be transformed into the Intersect Art Center.

3636 Ohio and 3636 Texas:

Gravois Park, the park, dates to 1812 as a Commons grant made by the U.S. government. Now the park is getting a new playground thanks to the efforts of the Cherokee Street Development League, Kaboom!, and the New Balance Foundation.

20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer was recently able to redirect city demolition funds to instead stabilize a city-owned building at 3735 California. The home is near two large properties on the SW and NE corners of California and Chippewa Street that may see significant investment soon.

Then came news Blackline Investments LLC is planning 15 market-rate apartments for the long-vacant 3600 Texas Avenue building nearby. The city has marketed the property, offering a 10-year tax abatement since at least 1995. Blackline plans a $1.35M renovation. The project would also use state and federal historic tax credits. The Gravois Park neighborhood lies within the Gravois-Jefferson Streetcar Suburb Historic District, perhaps the largest national register historic district in the nation.

3600 Texas:

The 15 apartments would range in size from 600-1,250sf, and consist of 10 1BD and five 2BD units. Rents are planned to range from $765 to $1,195. After completion of the apartments, Blackline is reportedly interested in exploring new construction townhomes or additional apartments on adjacent vacant land.

Blackline Investments LLC is comprised of Michael Schwartz and Mark Groenda of Blackline Design + Construction. That company is known for its renovation of the Montclair on the Park apartment building on Kingshighway, Straub’s grocery, and plans for Volpi on The Hill. The company has also designed a modern apartment tower added to historic storefronts at 4528 Olive Street in the city’s Central West End. The new venture is reportedly looking for additional projects in Gravois Park.

The ongoing Gravois-Jefferson Historic Neighborhoods Plan led by Rise and Dutchtown South Community Corporation (where I currently serve as executive director), has spent the past year engaging residents and stakeholders of Gravois Park, NE Dutchtown, and Benton Park West in a proactive effort to define resident’s concerns and aspirations. The result will be a neighborhood plan supported by area alderman and codified by the city.

A wide variety of entities and individuals are also engaged in planning for a “greater” Gravois, an effort born from the misguided MoDOT plan to repave the street which has become a dividing line. Plans would have preserved six lanes of traffic, high speeds, and closed numerous neighborhood access points, reaffirming the goal of moving traffic through the area as fast as possible to the detriment of residents, retail, and quality of life of those being passed by.

Anyone who seems to have an opinion of Gravois Park talks about change. The neighborhood saw extreme white flight in the 1990s. The neighborhood was very white in 1990. The 1990 Census recorded the population as 81% white and 13% black. The 2000 count was 31% white and 60% black. 2010: 22% white, 68% black. The change has been more than the faces of residents. Poverty has increased significantly, as has building vacancy.

Despite relatively high vacancy (858 housing units per the 2010 Census), the .44 square-mile area has a population density of 12,000 per square-mile. With no real retail or industrial space, and one smaller park, the almost entirely residential neighborhood, is likely the most densely populated in the city.

From 2000 to 2010, Gravois Park decreased in population by 601 residents, from 5,826 to 5,225. This represented a 10.32% decline. That’s a lot, but quite far from the top of the list of city neighborhoods. That decade, the city saw an overall population decrease of 8%, with more than a dozen of the 79 neighborhoods recording a decrease of greater than 20%. The loss in Gravois Park was near average for the city’s 31 south side neighborhoods, which collectively saw a 9.18% population decrease.

And so Gravois Park continues to face the myriad of social and physical challenges too often present in the city’s neighborhoods. Ultimately, the lack of investment precludes be able to address community concerns. The challenge for this neighborhood may now be to shape coming investment to build a better neighborhood for all.

 

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  • AmberK

    Great article! We are so excited to be bringing an EAGLE Prep campus to the Gravois Park neighborhood. I’m looking forward to getting to know our newest school community!

  • Riggle

    This is actually st louis. Not ucityclaytonmaplewood, mo. And the midcounty arm chair planners are mostly silent. That should tell you everything you need to know right there

    • Guest

      The only real St. Louisians live within the colonial village limits

      • Riggle

        If you can’t tell the difference between the urban core and the suburbs, and dont understand why one is more important than the other, then you are a prime example of whats wrong with this region

        • Guest

          It would be tremendous if downtown had 50k residents, like Center City Philly, and if there were double that within Chouteau & Cass/the river and Grand, but we’re a long way from a situation where U City or Maplewood are truly suburban (significantly less dense, less walkable, and housing-type monolithic) than a real “urban” core. Given the city’s frozen limits, I’d say a good definition of “urban core” is places that are or have the potential to be urban (ie, that had a higher population density in 1950 than they do now). Everywhere was “suburban” once (even Gravois Park), and the definition means different things in 1870, 1940, and today. It’s ridiculous to pretend that Midcounty is the same as Chesterfield or Wentzville, you might as well complain that 1st Street is no longer residential, and that sprawl has spread over the bluff towards Chouteau’s pond.

          • Riggle

            Its even more ridiculous to claim that a suburban downtown 8 miles from the river or a suburban big box retail hellscale 8 miles from the river are part of the urban core, thats disingenuous or delusional (and I fail to see the difference between Brentwood and Chesterfield, i really do). But just keep moving the goal post west, it’ll work eventually.

          • hk

            You seem to take Mid-County to mean just downtown Clayton and Brentwood, which weren’t mentioned above. Two-thirds of Clayton is east of Hanley–how are Demun or the Moorlands more suburban than Holly Hills or other parts of the city built in the 20’s or 30’s? Would Maplewood and Richmond Heights be considered anything other than extensions of Dogtown except for the city limits? I think that Maplewood is on the upswing because of its own little downtown (and despite car-centric development at Manchester & Big Bend, which in another world would be like Skinker & Delmar in the Loop). Despite what the owners of Yolklore claim, Crestwood won’t “be the next Maplewood” unless the Plaza redevelopment actually changes it into a neighborhood.

            I agree with you about the Hanley/Brentwood/Manchester commercial area being a nightmare, but I think Brentwood stands apart anyway, with most of Mid-County already being built out before the war. Also, do the awful car-centric shopping centers at Grand and Chippewa and Kingshighway and Chippewa make those areas less a part of the urban core? I also agree with you about Downtown Clayton being a boring and uninspired office park, but think that Metrolink and a walkable street grid make it far preferable to Creve Coeur, Chesterfield, or Westport. Mid-County (and other pre-war suburbs) really is different from what came later in actually having apartment buildings, and being built in a way that doesn’t take having a car as a given.

            Yes, Downtown/Midtown/Grand Center need more residents, businesses, foot traffic, and fewer vacant lots, and yes Gravois Park, Marine Villa, Dutchtown and other “middle neighborhoods” need investment and attention, but why blame Mid-County when the exurban fringe is nearing Warren and Franklin counties? I don’t agree with you that this is a zero-sum game, but why is development that shifts the goalposts east a bad thing?

          • Riggle

            I agree with almost everything you just said. Plenty of parts of the city aren’t the urban core either. I think they aren’t as important as urban core either. East is a good thing

  • RyleyinSTL

    Great update, seems like lots of positive momentum. I’m thrilled to see the school being reused.

  • STLExplorer

    I’ve been a Gravois Park resident for just under three years, and am constantly spotting new small projects underway. Lots are stop and go, but they seem to be gaining momentum. There are definitely legitimate concerns about gentrification, but it’s good to see that Chippewa Park can have rehabs going on just around the corner from Blackline.

    Any new announcements on Chippewa? I know that the NE corner at California could be a great opportunity…

    • Riggle

      There are no legitmate concerns about gentrification in the City od St Louis, especially in GP and Dutchtown. The population is hemorrhaging, buildings are collapsing daily and rents aren’t rising.

      • STLExplorer

        Well I hope we run into each other at a neighborhood bar and can have a good debate about this.

    • Andy

      An improving neighborhood is not gentrification. And while I’m happy to see new projects in these areas as it is rents barely, if at all, cover the cost of maintenance on the old brick buildings.

      The city of Saint Louis has been losing people for 70 years, that tend will have to be reversed before gentrification can be considered a problem or concern. Right now the problem for many neighborhoods is a lack of investment due to inadequate rents, the exact opposite of your concern.

  • Riggle

    GP and Dutchtown will get worse before they get better. When and if reinvestment comes will to some degree depend on location, these neighborhoods are convient to downtown and midtown st louis, but does anyone care?

    • jhoff1257

      “but does anyone care?”

      Apparently someone does or else we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Are these the hottest neighborhoods in the city? No. But developers and residents are clearly making investments and that should be something to feel positive about, especially in this area. Though if I’m being honest, I would expect nothing different from you.

      • Riggle

        I’m not sure I understand your criticism, I live in Gravois Park…

    • Adam

      I just bought a house in Dutchtown so guess that means I care.

      • Riggle

        Do you care about the Urban core? Or do you live there because you can get a cheap beautiful historic home?

        • thomas h benton

          I don’t think these are mutually exclusive. GP and Dutchtown are challenged, but it’s certainly not out of the question for them to strongly rebound. Think about areas that few would have predicted – Botanical Heights, f/k/a Mcree Town comes to mind. Also, although it predates me, people say that Shaw and Benton Park used to be quite rough. GP in particular benefits from its proximity to Cherokee Street and the fact that much of it is pretty intact. If we’re being honest, it’s hard to know where things will end up.

          • Riggle

            Mcree towns rise is related to investment in the central west end, and its relative proximity to it. Gp and dutchtown are further from the central corridor, and closer to struggling parts of it (ie downtown)

          • thomas h benton

            Not sure I agree with you there. Under that rationale, areas like Fountain Park and the Ville, etc., should be doing well, as well. Botanical Heights is farther away from CWE than those areas, and it’s also separated by railroad tracks and an interstate. All this is beside my larger point, though, which is that areas that would have seemed less likely to rebound than GP have rebounded. So I think we should be realistic about GP’s, but not unduly fatalistic about them either. I would imagine there must be a number of real frustrations and challenges with living in GP as you do.

          • Riggle

            I think the psychological devide vis a vis the Northside (fountaine park etc) is greater than any man made barrier (train tracks and interstate between mcreetown and cwe). I love living in Gravois Park, the biggest frustration comes from “urban pioneers” who are here for cheap historic housing, then complain about living in the ghetto (maybe should have done your research)

          • thomas h benton

            Hey,now, you may be hitting a little bit too close to home for comfort. But seriously, I think there’s an arc of naivete and disillusionment that people go through, and hopefully they come out the other end understanding the reality of the City but still loving it.

          • Riggle

            Sure. But people need to realize there is a reason they are paying 100k for a newly updated 2000 sq ft home…

          • Adam

            And just to clarify, I’m not some newcomer urban pioneer. I know exactly what I’m getting into moving into this part of Dutchtown. I’m doing it because I care about the neighborhood. I spent my elementary school days running around that part of S. Grand (my grandparents lived on Montana) back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I’m in it to win it.

          • STLrainbow

            I agree with your larger point but I’m not sure there is any more well-situated neighborhood in the city than gentrified McRee Town/Botanical Hts… Forest Park, Tower Grove Park, MOBOT, The Grove, CWE all close by and pretty easy 64 & 44 access for drivers. So I can see how it has taken off. But we also have to remember its turnaround was precipitated by large-scale eminent domain — governmental engineered gentrification if you will.

          • thomas h benton

            I’m very familiar with the garden district’s use of eminent domain for that area. It certainly seems to me that the phase 2 area (not the phase 1 area with all the suburban style homes by McBride) is the real star of the show. I wonder how well all of those suburb in the city homes will hold their value; not so well, I fear. When I think of Botanical Heights’ success, I’m thinking of the UIC part, although I suppose that might not have happened without the phase 1.

          • STLrainbow

            I guess we’ll never know… as for the McBride development it will be interesting to see how it holds up with time. Again it does have a great location going in its favor and I assume historic Tiffany to the east also will heat up so it’s pretty well-positioned for those folks who want to be in the general area but might prefer that type of single-family home.

          • studs

            Shaw and Benton Park are both excellent examples of city neighborhoods once popularly deemed slums beyond hope. Both are also practically gleaming poster children for the Historic Tax Credit, which facilitated rehabilitation of entire blocks in each neighborhood. When I rented in Shaw in the late ’80s to early ’90s and worked in Dutchtown, my co workers expressed concern over the tough neighborhood I was living in, as did other people I knew at the time. Striking how things have changed. There are still marginal buildings in both Shaw and BP, but there was a time when both had entire BLOCKS you would not want to walk on in the day time. At one point, nearly every building in the 4000 block of Shenandoah was a drug house. Benton Park West, Dutchtown, Gravois Park, Mount Pleasant, et al will take a while, but they can and will improve. An obvious major challenge is the existence of many large (30+ units) apartment buildings clustered throughout. If those are not stable, they will impede progress of the area at large.

          • Riggle

            I haven’t noticed much of a difference in suburban attitudes toward shaw, bp or the City in general since the 1990s, most think you will be shot east of kingshighway

          • studs

            Perhaps some of these suburban attitudes are based on misinformation and gross generalization. Development and progress have indisputably occurred and continue in both areas, irrespective of whether they have opened closed minds.

          • thomas h benton

            I actually agree with you on this point. I think that says a lot more about those people than about the neighborhoods. A lot of people still think it’s 1975, especially people of a certain age – say in their 50’s and 60’s – who were coming of age when the City really was in free fall.

          • thomas h benton

            It’s hard to imagine that former state of affairs now, and that makes me happy and hopeful. I think that “gentrification” is mostly a non-issue in St. Louis given our issues with extreme disinvestment and abandonment, whole neighborhoods going away, etc., but if anywhere is gentrifying, it would seem to be Shaw.

        • Adam

          Yeah… what? I care about the city’s historic built environment, which is why I’m dumping money into rehabbing a historic home rather than buying a new home in the city or a home in the suburbs.

    • thomas h benton

      Is the point of this article is that there are a couple of pretty big instances of reinvestment that are actually happening? I think everyone commenting here cares – a lot.