ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Torched by rioters, 18 fire-gutted building husks in Ferguson, Dellwood, and unincorporated north St. Louis County are headed toward demolition in an initiative to repair the tangible images of a region wracked by turmoil in the months following the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Rodney Crim, president of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, briefed the St. Louis County Council on the plan Tuesday night.
The allocation of $500,000 to raze and then beautify the demolition sites did not require council action.
The plan earned an instant thumbs up from area residents who see the remains of last year’s disturbances each time they venture along West Florissant Avenue, North Florissant Road and other thoroughfares struck by looters and arsonists.
“It’s a reminder of what never should have happened,” Brenda Taylor, 58, of Florissant, said Tuesday.
And that, said County Executive Steve Stenger, explains why the county decided to move quickly to clean up the blighted properties.
Demolition, Stenger said, helps ensure that Ferguson, Dellwood and other affected communities “will not be defined by isolated acts of violence.”
Funds from the county Port Authority will be used to finance the project.
Appointed by the council, the Port Authority through the Economic Partnership promotes industrial and public sector investment. The bulk of the agency’s own funding is generated by a long-term lease agreement with the River City Casino.
Economic Partnership CEO Denny Coleman called razing a crucial step in the economic recovery of communities devastated by damage in August and again in the aftermath of a grand jury decision in November not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting.
“It’s been very clear in talking to businesses that the view of burned-out buildings is negatively impacting the whole neighborhood,” Coleman said. “We felt getting up there to demolish those buildings as soon as possible will be helpful.”
The process of seeking bids for demolition of the 18 structures — which housed nearly 30 businesses — will begin immediately.
The county will cover the cost for uninsured businesses while working closely with the insured businesses to ascertain whether or how much of the property damage is covered by their policies.
“We want to make sure there is no double-dipping,” Coleman said.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said the program is aimed primarily at assisting business and building owners with low cash reserves.
“This pot of money will work toward helping smaller businesses,” the mayor said. “And what’s left over can help the larger businesses.”
Waiting at a bus stop Tuesday on West Florissant Avenue, Canfield Green resident Rodney Loggins praised the county initiative.
“I’m tired of looking at it,” Loggins said, eyeing the charred rubble of a nearby building. “Anything is better than looking at that.”
Stenger told reporters following the Tuesday council meeting that the county and the Economic Development Partnership are analyzing means to promote economic development and job opportunities along West Florissant Avenue in particular and North County in general.
The county executive said the adversity that shook the region presented the county with a “novel situation” to improve the economic outlook in North County.