Monday, September 22, 2014

Fox Park East Immigrant Housing Project

After reading the story that NextSTL broke on the Fox Park East Immigrant Housing Project last week I wanted to provide some personal perspective from someone who has lived in the neighborhood for ~4 years and how I feel this project will play an important role in an extremely important section of the city.

Actually, two separate low income housing projects were proposed by two separate groups that have the potential to make a huge impact on this key area in South St. Louis:  Fox Park, McKinley Heights and Tower Grove East.  These burgeoning areas are the ultimate bridges between Tower Grove Park, Shaw and Tower Grove South to the west, Soulard to the east, Lafayette Square to the north and the Benton Park areas to the south.


I love this part of the city and think it is going to continue to see investment as Shaw and Soulard and Lafayette get "built out".

Both projects proposed would utilize state and federal low income tax credits and both will target low income tenants as to provide quality affordable housing to an under-served population.  The first is the Fox Park East Immigrant Housing (FPEIH) project, the second is Southside Homes by C. F. Vatterott.

Today I'm  focusing on the first of the projects, FPEIH, which spans the Tower Grove East and Fox Park neighborhoods.  I'll do a separate post soon sharing my thoughts related to the Vatterott proposal to build new homes on LRA and Vatterott-owned lots in Fox Park and McKinley Heights in the near future.

The FPEIH venture will be a historic rehabbing project and will involve a non-profit called RISE, Wagstaff Urban Werks and Messiah Lutheran.  You may recognize Wagstaff Urban Werks, as they have designed the "Ritz Park" that was recently completed on South Grand (source).


RISE too has experience and a proven track record for respectful historic rehabs in Old North St. Louis and, closer to home, Forest Park Southeast with the Park East Homes project; take a look:

 Photo source:  risestl.org

  Photo source:  risestl.org

Not too shabby, eh?

Here is their mission statement:
"Rise's mission is to work in partnership with community-based and other organizations to redevelop and strengthen neighborhoods and communities. By providing capacity-building assistance, housing development services and access to financing, we make the connections between non-profit community organizations, financial institutions and government that make successful neighborhood revitalization possible."
(source)
Messiah Lutheran is a South City church in the Tower Grove East neighborhood and is the principal sponsor for this project. Following is a summary of their mission:
In a classic “middle neighborhood”, Fox Park and Tower Grove East provide the perfect blend of resources and revival to suggest the proposed development will be a success. What would seem to assure success is the genesis of this proposal. Messiah Lutheran has enjoyed the recent emergence of a refugee population in their congregation. Ethnically Nepalese, a significant population of Bhutanese refugees has made the greater neighborhood around Messiah Lutheran’s South Grand Church home. Having “adopted” this population, the congregants of Messiah Lutheran have become acutely aware of the needs of their new friends and neighbors. Often characterized by single households made up of extended families, these families are often under-housed, rent burdened and living in substandard housing. Still assimilating, the population has frequently been victims of street crime in the neighborhoods where they initially settle. On many occasions these families, most of whom have no automobiles or a single car for an extended family, have expressed a desire to live in a more stable neighborhood and closer to the church and the resources it provides. 
 The circumstances seem to be preordained. The recent relocation of the International Institute to 3401 Arsenal Street (in the heart of the proposed scattered site development) brings significant resources into immediate proximity to the proposed development.  The refugees and their families will have the regular support needed in order to develop the skills and cultural understanding needed to thrive in a new home.  In addition to affordable housing, limited commercial space in one of the centrally located buildings will be made available to local non-profits and financial industry volunteers to provide the targeted population with a variety of services including financial literacy, jobs counseling, credit building, and other important services. In keeping with MHDC’s stated goals, the proposed housing is a short walk from major public transportation stops, shopping, cultural resources, employment opportunities and entertainment. 
All three organizations involved in this project are St. Louis City entities.  This project will target 10 separate buildings for historical rehabilitation, including six in the Fox Park neighborhood and four in the Tower Grove East neighborhood.

Here is a map of the rehab projects proposed by FPEIH:



And here's the proposed property list by address:


Now let's take a look at these bruised brick beauties that may be coming back to life:

 2801-2803 California Avenue (front)

 2801-2803 California Avenue (rear)

2625-2627 Texas Avenue

2833 Magnolia Avenue

2850 Magnolia Avenue

2128-2130 Oregon Avenue

2644 Accomac Street

3114 Sidney Street

3152 Arsenal Street

3114-3116 Arsenal Street

3110 Magnolia Avenue

In a recent public meeting held in Fox Park, the neighbors in attendance had overwhelming support for the project.

Adding density, ethnic diversity, stable tenants, support of immigrants as well as sensitive historic preservation of vacant homes are all things I look forward to with this project. And these values are the ones that I really enjoy about living in this part of St. Louis. I personally feel that this project will be a success and will increase the quality of life in this amazingly happening part of town.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

10 Observations From a City Dweller

10 quick thoughts from an STL lover/resident:
  1. If just 20% of the properties in my neighborhood changed hands from slumlord landlord to owners with dignity, 80% of our problems would subside. There is a common rule of thumb in business and statistics that says 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  Read about the 80:20 rule, or the Pareto principle here.
  2. I feel after 8 years in St. Louis Public Schools, my kids are getting about as good a public education as you can in the region.  I feel like I have the tools to understand my options should I need to make a move, they are here:  www.stlcityschools.org
  3. It would be great to perform neighborhood-wide tree surveys.  This could lead to sensible and calculated plantings of new Missouri natives street trees planted and harvest the dying/misplaced/dead ones and make firewood for the city to sell/give away.  This would go a long way to improving curb appeal.  Has anyone out there done this? I think it would be awesome to completely plant an entire neighborhood.  The benefits of street trees are undeniable.
  4. Weird to say, but these days downtown feels less dead at night and more so during the day.  Lots of jobs lost at AT&T, etc.
  5. I am amazed at the amount of development between I-44 and Delmar.  I love what's happening in the middle part of the city.
  6. After visiting and writing about nearly all of our 111 parks, I think our department heads in the city should have valid credentials/experience.  For instance, the forestry dept head should be an arborist and the park's dept head an urban planner, etc.  We have a beautiful park system, but there is no leadership or vision that I'm aware of to elevate or maintain our parks.  It is done on a ward by ward basis by politicians vs. the park's dept.
  7. I am weening myself off of social media...it really changes the way you are viewed by people who don't really even know you.  It is an obvious advancement for our society, but at the same time, I don't necessarily think it benefits my life or my goals.  Reading the Circle by Dave Eggars is helping me frame this technology.  His fictional concept of privacy vs. transparency has changed my worldview on social media and the information age.
  8. If I hear one more suburbanite from the inner ring suburbs tell me what is wrong with St. Louis and why they left my head is going to explode.  You are either part of the problem or the solution.  Quitting and moving is the easy part.  Abandonment and apathy are legacies that take much more time to heal.
  9. It seems like the Post-Dispatch has been more accurately reporting locations in their stories.  They are becoming less lazy in saying "St. Louis man murders 2"...now they are getting it right and saying Bel-Nor man murders 2 in Jennings...baby steps are important in understanding our region and who we are.  #Ferguson has been huge in building accuracy in reporting and honestly talking about our region vs. tagging everything to St. Louis.  The honesty is refreshing.  The people of Ferguson are the ones who can vote out the old ways and build new policies and ways of doing business.  The ball is in their court and I'll watch and hope for the best on the sidelines; wish I could vote for change, but that's not how we are structured.  It's Ferguson's problem to fix.
  10. We are a zero to negative growth region, meaning St. Louis and St. Louis County are collectively losing population...together...for the first time in STL County history.  When this is the case, regional battles exist for jobs, tax base and residents.  As it stands today, Clayton is St. Louis' greatest competitor for jobs.  Centene expanding in Ferguson is great for Ferguson, but another snub to St. Louis.  Remember BPV/Cordish and Centene parting ways?  Centene surely hasn't forgotten, and they are doubling down in the burbs...not St. Louis.  A central, bustling city mean a lot more to me than a sprawling region of suburban campus and "job centers". 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

O'Fallon Park

O'Fallon Park is 1 of 111 St. Louis parks.  This 126 acre park was placed into ordinance in 1908 and is bordered roughly by I-70, West Florissant Avenue and Adelaide Avenue in the O'Fallon neighborhood.


This is a beautiful park.  One of my favorites.  And you can't help but draw the comparison of O'Fallon Park to Carondelet Park as both have popular fishing lakes, extensive paved walking trails, picnic places, a wooden home, similar boathouses, nearly identical service buildings and massive modern Recreational Complexes.

The park is highly visible from I-70 so most in the region know O'Fallon Park from the rolling hills and mature trees just east and south of Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Let's start with the boathouse and lake.  This is a popular fishing spot with fishermen on all sides of the lake.  There is a planted island in the middle of the lake, and chess tables and currently empty planters between the lake and the boathouse.







There is a functional spray pool as well, great to see!



The walking path is extensive and extremely well used.  There are spots along the track that include the commonly seen blue workout stations.  Also nice to see are functional water fountains and bike racks near the trail.




One of the amazing new developments is a handicap accessible playground installed in 2014.  This one precedes the one currently under construction in Willmore Park.


The playground has space themed playground equipment, and I could be wrong, but I think it even has a Mork from Ork egg:






The highlight of the playground to me were two glockenspiel/marimba like things.  Check it out:



There is also a separate, accessible spray pool.


The park has tennis courts, football field (with field goals) and basketball courts as well, all in excellent condition:




There are several picnic pavilions:




There is a wood home is severe disrepair and a cool looking service building.



Much of the eastern part of the park is made up of rolling hills and mature trees.




Now the downside that has to be mentioned, because it is quite overt.  There are issues with knuckleheads cruising and trashing the park along the interior roads.  Broken booze/beer glass is everywhere and trash lines the streets in many spots.  It's a party spot, which kills the peaceful vibe.

The copious trash from was pretty intense the first time I saw it, so I assumed a big event may have just taken place, so I made 3 separate visits to the park so as not to wrongly paint the picture of this park.  Nope, it was pretty bad each time.  The city workers do a great job of mowing and keeping the trash cans emptied, but they don't clean the debris from the streets and gutters.

Abuse of the park is being monitored though, as there are visible camera within the park.  Based on my experience, this is the only park in the city that has cameras.  Good for O'Fallon, but these are needed in many city parks.


Arguably the best thing to happen to the park in recent memory is the awesome Rec Plex complete with outdoor pool and water slides.  This place is amazing.



The parking lot is green to avoid runoff.


There are entry ways from the surrounding neighborhoods that lead to the rec plex.

The homes that surround the park are straight up beautiful.





O'Fallon Park is one of the crown jewels of the St. Louis Parks.