ST. LOUIS — A century-old bank branch on Natural Bridge Avenue will become a new business services center operated by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis after Commerce Bank donated the building to the nonprofit.
National Urban League President Marc Morial joined local chapter leader Michael McMillan and Commerce Bank CEO John Kemper on Tuesday to announce the new St. Louis Entrepreneurship and Women’s Business Center, which McMillan said should be fully operational by the end of the year. Commerce closed the branch in 2017 after it built a more modern location across Natural Bridge Avenue from the historic structure.
“The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis’ mission to empower African Americans and others throughout the region in securing economic self-reliance aligns with Commerce Bank’s commitment to empower individuals, to strengthen communities and to support our strong region,” Kemper said in a statement. “Commerce believes small businesses are the heart of a thriving community.”
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The William T. Kemper foundation and Commerce Bancshares Foundation, among others, are contributing to the project.
McMillan said the Urban League has raised about $600,000 to renovate the building for the small-business center and is looking to raise about $500,000 more to complete the updates. He said he plans to apply for a grant under a recently adopted city program to extend grants to businesses and nonprofits along north St. Louis commercial corridors such as Natural Bridge.
The Urban League will move its existing Women's Business Center, which it operates in Pagedale in partnership with the Small Business Administration, to the new location.
The facility will be the 14th National Urban League-designated entrepreneurship center in the country. It will offer business classes and workshops and help owners apply for contracts and financing with help from a staff of about 10 people.
”In the pandemic, some 40% of African American owned businesses either closed permanently or temporarily,” Morial told the group of officials gathered on Tuesday. “We are pulling out every stop to help business owners get back on their feet, to reopen their doors, to reemploy people, to bring vibrancy back to their communities.”
The new location comes less than a year after the St. Louis Urban League chapter moved into its new headquarters — the former Sears location at North Kingshighway and Martin Luther King Drive. It purchased the building from the Roberts brothers in 2020. In January, it also acquired a shopping center just to the east on Aubert Avenue as it builds out a larger campus in north St. Louis.