FERGUSON — Health & Homes STL, a nonprofit group comprised of area business and community leaders, on Thursday announced new investments along the West Florissant Avenue corridor, including a health care center and major infrastructure improvements.
The new development, called the WestFlo District, is designed to reshape a section of the battered commercial corridor that was the scene of much of the civil unrest after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown five years ago.
Already under construction and expected to open in October is the new Boys & Girls Club, a $12.4 million, 26,000-square-foot center designed to serve neighborhood children.
On Thursday, Health & Homes STL announced plans by Mercy to break ground by the end of the year on an 11,000-square-foot facility at 9180 West Florissant, next to the Boys & Girls Club.
The new clinic will provide primary care and women’s services, as well as behavioral health services and other needed social services.
Jason Hand, department chair of adult primary care at Mercy, spoke Thursday at a press conference to announce the development.
“When you think about our geography, as we do often, we have one glaring hole. And it’s Ferguson,” Hand said.
The health center will also have outreach workers who will go out and talk to members of the community about health, said Donn Sorensen, board chair and CEO of Health & Homes STL and executive vice president of Mercy.
Mercy plans to break ground on the new project by the end of the year.
Longer range plans also include the addition of a credit union and a grocery store.
Fields Foods owner Chris Goodson said Thursday that the St. Louis-based grocery chain plans to have a presence in the development.
Lisa Farnen, vice president of marketing for Electro Savings Credit Union, said that her company is still considering whether to open a location in the development, but added that through the company’s outreach work it will have a presence in the area nonetheless.
The health care hub will be surrounded by street lighting, 12,000 square feet of sidewalks, 17 new crosswalks and nearly four miles of improved curbs and gutters.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist and East St. Louis native Jackie Joyner-Kersee will serve as an ambassador for youth at the Boys and Girls Club and at the Mercy clinic.
Joyner-Kersee is on the advisory board for Health & Homes STL. She told the Post-Dispatch that she thinks the development is an “opportunity to shine a bright light” and do good, meaningful work in the community.
Joyner-Kersee spoke at Thursday’s press conference, as did St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and state Sen. Brian Williams. The press conference was held on the site of the planned clinic, adjacent to the new Boys and Girls Club teen center.
Flint Fowler, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, said the new teen center can partner with Health & Homes STL to provide workforce development experience for young people, like workplace visits and internships.
Fowler said a ribbon-cutting for the new center is scheduled for Oct. 3, and that the facility will include a gym, auditorium, garden, teaching kitchen, recording studio and game room.
Health & Homes STL was founded three years ago following a conversation among local business leaders, Sorensen said.
At the time, Sorensen said, the NFL was leaving St. Louis, crime rates were up, and the “community we loved was in despair.”
Sorensen said the nonprofit wanted to provide an “omnibus solution” to a set of problems. He said the group did community outreach, and the feedback showed that people wanted things like better access to transportation and infrastructure like curbs, gutters and streetlights.
Basic improvements, such as sidewalks, crosswalks and streetlights, help remove “barriers that cause isolation,” Sorensen said.
Don Musick, secretary and treasurer of Health & Homes STL, said the nonprofit’s leaders had “preconceived notions” about what the community wanted, and those changed dramatically after meeting with residents of southeast Ferguson.
What people wanted “was very fundamental,” Musick said.
Musick, who is CEO of Musick Construction, said people cited a desire for infrastructure improvements and better access to food, health care, education and jobs.
“I think it took us the three years of research,” he said, to really figure out the community’s needs.
Homes & Health STL so far has raised $8 million and secured four acres of land, organizers said.
Ferguson has two major commercial corridors. While South Florissant Road has benefited from substantial private investment, West Florissant has languished in recent years.
A number of businesses were destroyed during the riots in 2014, and not all have been rebuilt. The site of a QuikTrip that burned has been replaced by the $4 million Ferguson Community Empowerment Center, a joint effort of the Urban League and the Salvation Army. But other sites have remained vacant.
In a recent interview, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said improvements to West Florissant, which he called “a sea of asphalt with empty, outdated strip malls” were essential.