A North Star for Revitalizing North City
Decades of disinvestment have exposed the residents of north St. Louis, particularly in the North St. Louis City area, to economic and environmental risks that have led to adverse health effects, increased poverty and poor quality of life.See Environmental Racism in St. Louis, prepared by the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic at Washington University School of Law, 2019. Predominantly Black neighborhoods like Jeff Vander Lou, Greater Ville and Wells Goodfellow are at even greater risk due to a high concentration of vacant and abandoned properties in these areas. However, grassroots initiatives to bring investment to North City show promise in accelerating revitalization in these communities.
Throughout the years, place-based community anchor organizations have provided services and capital investments to reverse the deep-rooted cycle of disinvestment in North City.
Creating a Pathway to Deepen Impact in North City
Tabernacle Community Development Corp. (TCDC), located in the Jeff Vander Lou neighborhood, has made significant headway in mobilizing funders, institutional partners and policymakers to increase investment in North City. Created in 2014, the community development arm of The Tabernacle church, led by pastor Andre Alexander, strives to eliminate poverty and exclusion by improving social, educational and economic infrastructures. At the St. Louis Fed’s Investment Connection event in 2018, Alexander, the founder and president of TCDC, pitched an affordable rental housing development program for residents of the Jeff Vander Lou and Ville neighborhoods. The project received $400,000 in loans from Gateway Community Development Fund Inc. through a partnership spearheaded by Alexander and Jaycee Greene, Gateway’s loan director.This partnership between the two organizations was highlighted in our 2019 Open Vault blog post “Rebuilding Homes and Restoring Hope in North St. Louis.”
Three years later, TCDC embarked on its next project—a $1.5 million renovation of the Farragut Branch Elementary School—establishing The Hub, a facility dedicated to affordable housing and streamlined services. Financing for the project came through a loan fund—in partnership with IFF (a Chicago-based community development financial institution) and the St. Louis Development Corp.—and private donations. After a 15-month renovation, the space now provides access to health care, legal and educational services for residents through institutional partnerships. Most importantly, this resource center serves as the nexus for building community collaboration and deploying pooled investment into North City.
“After pitching The Hub at the 2019 [Investment Connection] event and going through the networking rounds, there was not much interest in this project among funders,” Alexander said. “I think it was hard for people to grasp something like this could happen in north St. Louis.”
Identifying the North Star
The development and operationalization of The Hub places TCDC at the center of responsive community development in North City. Other prominent North City anchor organizations—like Friendly Temple, Better Family Life Inc., the Greater Ville Neighborhood Preservation Commission and the Center for the Acceleration of African American Businesses—have joined forces with TCDC to leverage one another’s unique expertise to galvanize additional investment in North City by establishing North Star Community Partners.
These organizations have a strong history of serving their communities. They have received accolades for their cutting-edge services and capital investments that have resulted in positive outcomes for their clientele. However, access to sustainable funding has been a challenge for these organizations as they seek to expand their services and deepen community impact to make North City more economically vibrant. Alexander noted, “Most organizations in North City struggle to make connections with the private donor base. We know St. Louis is a very philanthropic town, but often those dollars fly over North City unless you are a part of a large conglomerate.”
Eddie Davis of the Center for the Acceleration of African American Businesses, a North Star partner, notes, “Historically, particularly in north St. Louis and among Black-led organizations, this is the first attempt to do something at this scale in a collaborative manner.”
North Star Community Partners’ mission is the creation of an ecosystem that facilitates collaboration, increases economic and social impact, and strengthens the capacity of organizations to support the growth and sustainability of underserved neighborhoods throughout north St. Louis. Its long-term goal includes the implementation of a comprehensive approach to establish the Martin Luther King Drive corridor, and its surrounding neighborhoods, as a regional anchor for residential living and retail business and as a sector for health, education, arts and entertainment. It is currently pursuing large-scale community and economic development projects at the center as well as east and west sides of the Martin Luther King Drive corridor. Partnership priorities include affordable housing, urban revitalization, workforce and business development, and access to quality education.
Alignment for Sustained Growth
Currently, large-scale economic and workforce development projects—like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s western headquarters and Centene Stadium for Major League Soccer—are underway within a few miles of North City. North Star Community Partners sees an opportunity to serve as a connection point for entities overseeing these large-scale projects and to deepen their relationship with the communities that these projects impact. Ultimately, there is an opportunity to align the investments of these projects with the grassroots expertise of place-based anchor organizations to affect sustained, ground-up economic growth.
To Alexander, this alignment is critical: “What happens in each neighborhood within St. Louis impacts the whole region, because the stories and narratives about us are told together, not separately.”
Notes and References
- See Environmental Racism in St. Louis, prepared by the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic at Washington University School of Law, 2019.
- This partnership between the two organizations was highlighted in our 2019 Open Vault blog post “Rebuilding Homes and Restoring Hope in North St. Louis.”