ST. LOUIS — Mayor Tishaura O. Jones voiced support Saturday for a nonprofit-led plan to revive two neighborhoods in the center of the city: Vandeventer and Covenant Blu-Grand Center.
The North Central Plan published Saturday aims to organize the area’s major institutions and residents in an attempt to bring a wave of progress, including development of vacant properties, added green space and residential and commercial investment.
The two neighborhoods are both majority Black communities that together have about 5,500 residents and cover just under 3 square miles.
The neighborhoods include sections of the Grand Center Arts District — a performing arts and museum hub. But investment in much of the planning area has lagged compared with the neighboring Midtown and Central West End areas.
The plan says that a history of discriminatory housing, education, lending and transportation policies contributed to that divide, and lays out a long list of proposed changes.
The 18-month planning process was primarily funded through $300,000 from the Deaconess Foundation, a nonprofit associated with the United Church of Christ that has its headquarters in the Vandeventer neighborhood.
The foundation has donated more than $85 million to St. Louis-area community efforts since 1998, according to its website.
The process included two town halls with residents and meetings with most of the area’s community groups and institutions, according to the plan.
Jones said at a public unveiling for the plan Saturday that she hopes the effort will be a model for more community-led development planning throughout the city.
“Development must happen with the community, not to the community,” she said to a group of residents and supporters of the plan. “I’m so glad to see this kind of development planning that centers and reflects the voices, the dreams and the hopes of all its residents.”
The plan was submitted at the event to the city’s Planning and Urban Design Agency. The agency will review the document and hold public hearings before it considers adopting it as an official city planning document, allowing it to be used by city departments to guide development and funding.
That recognition from the city was a primary goal for the effort, after a similar plan completed in 2000 by the area’s neighborhood groups failed to get adopted by the city, Deaconess Foundation interim president Cheryl Walker said Saturday.
“Getting it adopted brings legal force,” Walker said. “It’s something developers would adhere to, so that was a key goal.”
The primary focus areas of the plan include:
• Growing the Grand Center Arts District, which includes the Fox Theatre and Powell Hall, with more multiuse development that connects to the surrounding neighborhoods rather than the area remaining an “island”;
• Creating a “wellness hub” by encouraging more medical providers to move into the area around the Cochran VA Medical Center, located in the 900 block of North Grand Boulevard;
• Strengthening the area’s retail shopping centers;
• Revitalizing Delmar Boulevard and Martin Luther King Drive;
• Building small residential parks to attract residents and investment;
• Supporting more residential rehabs and development;
• Documenting the area’s history and preserving historic properties;
The plan also calls for the creation of a community development organization, a nonprofit with paid staff to help oversee the goals of the plan.
Barbara Murphy, a longtime Vandeventer resident and neighborhood group leader, served as co-chair of the plan’s steering committee.
Murphy bought a Victorian home in Vandeventer in 2003 and restored the property, but said a lack of investment in the area means her neighborhood’s properties are still worth a fraction of what they would be just a few miles away.
Murphy said with the publication of the plan, the work is only beginning.
“We have to come together as a neighborhood and really buckle down now. We have to show a united front with developers,” she said.
“In this area, we have land and opportunity. We are centrally located. We’ve got the structure. I think developers will open up their eyes and see what can be done here.”
The area’s three aldermen — Jesse Todd, Marlene Davis and Dwinderlin Evans— the activist group Action St. Louis and the art district’s Grand Center Inc. were all represented on the steering committee for the plan.