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First of all, this is such a critical part of our city. It is the gateway to the south city neighborhoods directly south of the burgeoning Downtown and Downtown West neighborhoods which were two of the few St. Louis neighborhoods that actually saw a gain in population from 2000-2010. The 3 neighborhoods of Fox Park, Benton Park West and McKinley Heights are critical to St. Louis' future wedged between the successful neighborhoods of Compton Heights and Lafayette Square. A strong, vibrant Jefferson Avenue could serve as the main corridor to the southeastern neighborhoods. Some of these near south neighborhoods had taken a beating when people started packing it up for the burbs starting after WWII and continuing through the 1990's crack epidemic years when things were completely out of control in this part of St. Louis.
Things have calmed down from a crime perspective and historic tax credits urged rehabbers to come into these neighborhoods and help make a much needed change for the better. There are lots of residual effects from those bad years, but these neighborhoods are clearly on the rise. And Jefferson Avenue should be the attention getter and commercial business district that it could and should be to attract more people to choose this part of town as their home.
In its current state, Jefferson is a speedway where cars travel at high speeds mainly getting to I-44 and I-64. I would like to see a road diet here, similar to the changes made on Grand between Arsenal and Utah. Angled on-street parking, median plantings, street trees and wide sidewalks could make a major difference. Actually, just a little clean up and infrastructure improvements would go a long way toward making Jefferson less...um...gritty...and more inviting to a pedestrian/neighbor/visitor.
So let's take a look at what exists today along Jefferson on the east side of Fox Park.
Starting on the north just south of I-44, you have a typical suburban McDonalds complete with 24 hour drive through. This place is always crowded and must do an amazing business being right off of a major Interstate off ramp. it is also one of the main nutritional sources for many in Fox Park as evidenced by the excessive amount of littering of McD's trash throughout the entire neighborhood. Whatever you think about these junk food restaurants, this one is probably going nowhere anytime soon judging by the traffic.
Geyer and Allen Avenues dead end with a cul de sac preventing traffic to enter Fox Park from Jefferson. In fact many if not most of the perpendicular streets are intentionally cut off at Jefferson; Accomac, Ann and Armand all dead ends. Russell, Shenandoah, Victor and Sidney are the only streets one can use to access Fox Park from Jefferson. Allen and Geyer pick back up on the eastern side of Jefferson in the McKinley Heights neighborhood only to be butchered again by I-55 and then picking up in Soulard again.
The 2000 block of Jefferson is more attractive between Allen and Russell. Infill and rehab could transform this block. I love the old sign on one of the available buildings in this block:
South Side Day Nursery (SSDN) has purchased the property of the former Taco Bell along with 2 beautiful brick storefronts/ and a large dwellings right at Ann formerly owned by DeSales Community Housing Corp. The Beacon reported on this back in December, 2011 and the buildings that SSDN are proposing seem like an upgrade over the surface parking and drive through ATM. It appears to be built to the street with decent looking modern design.
Started in 1886 by 15 Unitarian women, the Nursery's mission was to provide children with education and a hygienic place to stay while their parents worked. The first home was at 10th and Sidney, where they remained until 1954. The move to Iowa Avenue was caused by construction of Interstate 55.The bad news (in St. Louis nearly all new uses come with a loss of our brick beauties) is that we are losing several classic buildings in the process. There will be no intricate design or craftsmanship on the new buildings. There was of course plenty of history and care and charm in the old buildings.
According to South Side Day Nursery's plans, the store fronts and residence would be demolished and work begun before dealing with the American Eagle part of the parcel.So if this thing really gets built to the street with the design proposed, and the shuttered ATM is replaced, I'll consider this a net gain even though we lose more of St. Louis' treasure. I'm sure SSDN will provide a great resource for many in the city and it will bring some life to a dead stretch of Jefferson....but it comes with the cost of losing a piece of our history and charm. I welcome SSDN to Fox Park and wish them nothing but the best, but I'm disappointed they did not give this historic neighborhood enough consideration when it came to bulldozing the one thing that will draw more people to our neighborhood and our city.
The next block gets better.
Kakao Chocolate, the Warehouse, the Way Out Club, Trader Bob's Tattoo are all spots for quality products and entertainment. Just imagine if a few more businesses moved into these storefronts? The potential is huge. Another quality addition to the Fox Park stretch of Jefferson is Tenth Life Cat Rescue which will be renovating and occupying a currently empty building south of Kakao.