A small community-built park at the Northeast corner of Cherokee Street and Nebraska in South St. Louis, known as “Love Bank Park”, is slated to receive major upgrades in 2023. After seven years of planning, gathering community input, and applying for grants, the Cherokee Street Community Improvement District (CID) has announced plans to break ground this spring on an ambitious $1.2 million project to upgrade the park.
Once complete, the roughly 7,000 square foot park will feature an expanded basketball court with three hoops, a shade structure that will double as an outdoor performance venue with integrated sound and lighting, a storage structure, and a plaza with seating, chess tables, wifi, and extensive landscaping. Plans call for a permeable asphalt basketball court – a first of its kind in the region.
The redesign of the park is being led by two St. Louis based women-owned design firms: Patterhn Ives (lead architect) and Arbolope Studio (landscape architect).
“Patterhn Ives, Arbolope Studio, and our team of skilled consultants are committed to giving back to our community and are grateful to contribute to the redevelopment of Love Bank Park.” said Anna Ives of Patterhn Ives. “The Cherokee Street CID is committed to constructing a place that embodies and nurtures the diversity of the local community. The park will constantly evolve to reflect the identity of myriad gatherings, both formal and informal, stitching the park into the daily life of the community it serves.”
The Cherokee CID has selected E.M. Harris as the general contractor.
The project will be funded by a combination of grant funding – the largest of which is from MSD’s Project Clear program, tax proceeds from the Cherokee Street Community Improvement District, a bank loan from Town & Country Bank, and donations from individuals and businesses.
“This is the culmination of many years of community engagement and lots of work by the Cherokee Business District alongside community partners.” said 20th ward Alderman Cara Spencer. “This is a phenomenal example of how taxing districts can serve not only their business interests but their surrounding neighborhoods. I’m excited to see this finally come to fruition.”
History of Love Bank Park
In the early 2000’s Cherokee Street experienced a high rate of vacancy in the commercial district, and vacant land was in even less demand than vacant buildings. The Cherokee Station Business Association (CSBA), the predecessor to the Cherokee Street Community Improvement District, owned five vacant lots in the district. Most, if not all of them previously had buildings that were demolished in the 80’s or 90’s, and later obtained from the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) after going to auction and receiving no bids. In an unusual strategy to keep maintenance costs low, the business association, in 2006, paid approximately $30,000 to have have the lots paved over with asphalt (to eliminate ongoing lawn care) and installed wrought iron fencing at the front and back to prevent littering and cross traffic from the alleys through to Cherokee.
According to meeting minutes from 2013, the CSBA, under new leadership, began brainstorming ways to activate the dead space created by the fenced lots it owned. The board discussed selling four of the five vacant lots to businesses or individuals that would activate them and using the proceeds to create a small park with a pavilion that could be used for live music and events in the remaining one.
With the demolition of 2857 Cherokee, which suffered structural failures and was demolished by the city in 2012, the CSBA identified this vacant parcel, combined with the adjacent paved lot (2853 Cherokee) already owned by the association, as the best location for a park, and approached then 9th ward Alderman Ken Ortmann about obtaining the property. The Alderman, citing a preference for economic development and a lack of funds or detailed plans for developing the space into a park, declined the request and said he would be willing to reconsider when more substantial plans were available.
For the next few years, both parcels sat vacant and overgrown with weeds. By 2015 the wrought iron fence in front of 2853 Cherokee was barely visible.
Although the business association was unable to move forward with major capital improvements to the space, Cherokee Street Reach, a group led by community members Pacia Anderson, Eric “Prospect” White, and Shareca “Sheabrown” Pitts, began using the empty lots for youth programming including live performances, arts activities, and an annual summer camp. With no water or power going to the site, a garden hose and an extension cord were run from Blank Space, two doors down the street, to power events.
In November 2015, Will Porter, who was a board member of the CSBA at the time and owned Master Pieza, a pizza place across the street from the lots, proposed installing a basketball hoop in the asphalt pavement. Anne McCullough, Community Liaison for the CSBA and Cherokee Street resident, found one on Craigslist and together with Will Porter and other community members cleaned up the two lots and installed the new hoop. Porter wrote “Love Bank” on the backboard and the name “Love Bank Park” was born. The following month Alderman Ortmann agreed to transfer ownership of the corner lot from LRA to the CSBA.
In 2016, an additional basketball hoop was donated to the park along with some park benches. Love Bank Park continued to serve as an important recreational & gathering space for the surrounding community, hosting holiday events, yoga sessions, vigils, arts camps, and basketball tournaments.
With the corner lot acquired from the city, the business association began selling off the other paved lots located at 2647 Cherokee (now used as an outdoor bar for Whiskey Ring), 2726 Cherokee (now an outdoor patio for Earthbound Brewery), 3415 Iowa (converted to parking for residential use), and 2836 Cherokee (still owned by the Cherokee CID and currently listed for sale).
In January 2017 the CSBA submitted a grant proposal to MSD and was awarded $169,000 towards renovating the park. The grant award stipulated that it was a reimbursable grant, and would be funded upon completion of the entire project. Lacking the additional funds needed to do the entire project, the CSBA was still unable to proceed with construction.
In March, 2018 the newly formed Cherokee Street Community Improvement District (CID), which replaced the CSBA, transferred ownership of the two vacant lots to the Cherokee Street Development League (CSDL), a new entity with non-profit status that, it hoped, could make the project a reality. During this period, stakeholders led multiple design charrettes and visioning sessions about how the park can grow and evolve. Many of the board members of the Community Improvement District also served on the board of the Cherokee Street Development League and the project suffered from the same challenges under the non-profit, namely lack of funding. Two years later in 2020, ownership of the property was transferred back to the Cherokee Street CID, which had by this time saved up additional funding from its relatively new status as a community improvement district – receiving 1% sales tax of all sales in the district. This also allowed the CID to obtain bank financing pushing the project closer to reality.
The Cherokee Street CID has launched a capital campaign fund in partnership with St. Louis Community Foundation to collect private donations and help close the remaining funding gap for the project.
“This project is a great example of what the Cherokee Street community is about and where we’re heading,” said Brandin Vaughn, fashion designer and chair of the Cherokee St. CID Board of Directors. “The new Love Bank Park creates space for performance, events and the arts; it creates space to come together, to relax and play; and above all it keeps space for the community and the young people of the neighborhood at the center of our district.”
To learn more about the redevelopment and how to get involved, visit cherokeestreet.com/park.