Urban Redevelopment
5:22 pm
Fri July 18, 2014

Residents' Tenacity Sparked North Sarah Community Revival

The North Sarah Community in St. Louis' Vandeventer neighborhood.
The North Sarah Community in St. Louis' Vandeventer neighborhood.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Ann Walker works for McCormack Baron Salazar. Not only does she work for one of the companies that helped develop the North Sarah Community, she’s also a resident.

“The kids in the neighborhood know me. I have a little dog that I walk,” Walker said. “They always want to see if the dog can come out and play.”

Walker’s dog may have more admirers soon. That’s because work just wrapped up on a major expansion to the mixed-income development in the city’s Vandeventer neighborhood, which is bound by Dr. Martin Luther King Drive to the north, Delmar Boulevard to the south, Vandeventer Avenue to the east and Newstead Avenue to the west:.

More than 100 residential units and more commercial space were added to the North Sarah Community. The $23.3 million projects means the development now has more than 220 homes and nearly 12,000 square feet of commercial, management and community space.

For policymakers and business leaders at Friday’s ribbon cutting, the brick townhouses had additional significance. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the expansion means “hope for a brighter future” for the neighborhood. And state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said the development showcased how a neighborhood could overcome economic disinvestment and crime.

“Not long ago, this community was plagued with drug dealers, prostitution, gang activities and a sense of hopelessness raining down on this community. For decades,” Nasheed said. “But now we are here and this light is shining so bright on this community.”

Alderman Terry Kennedy, D-18th Ward, said North Sarah’s expansion could be credited to resident tenacity. 

Business and political leaders cut the ribbon on the expansion to the North Sarah Community.
Business and political leaders cut the ribbon on the expansion to the North Sarah Community.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

For years, he said, they spent countless hours working with policymakers and debating the best course for the multi-use development. For instance, he said, an 82-year-old resident named Jolly Harris fought hard to make sure the North Sarah Community had a park to ride his bicycle. 

“A community of despair? They did not have despair,” Kennedy said. “A community forgotten? Not in their minds. A community lost? Maybe in somebody else’s mind. But for them, this is where they lived. And they were committed to seeing something happen.”

Nasheed said the development showed a commitment to teamwork – especially since financing the project involved private investment from companies like McCormack Baron Salazar and government incentives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But Nasheed made a point to praise the low-income housing tax credit, an incentive under increasing attack in the Missouri General Assembly. While some lawmakers have criticized the tax credit for being inefficient, Nasheed said it was critical to getting projects like North Sarah off the ground.

“I can tell you that many of my colleagues, they want to take one piece of that puzzle away from us on the state level,” Nasheed said. “If it wasn’t for low-income housing tax credits, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Slay said a further expansion of the North Sarah Community is supposed to occur in the near future. And Walker - - the dog-walking resident of the neighborhood -- is excited.

"This just has as good of a neighborhood feel as ... very established neighborhoods," Walker said. "And it just feels very, very good to me. It’s conveniently located. You can get anywhere in 20 minutes, just like you can in a lot of places in St. Louis."