It’s a church. It’s a community development corporation. It aims to rebuild JeffVanderLou
The Tabernacle Church is more than a church. In 2014, leaders there created the Tabernacle Community Development Corp., which went on to purchase dozens of vacant properties around the JeffVanderLou neighborhood in north St. Louis.
Through rehabbing, the organization has turned those properties into more than 30 livable units, and more are under construction. It’s not just housing on the nonprofit’s plate: The group also invested $1.5 million into a shuttered elementary school, which reopened in December as a community center. The center, called the Hub, has since added a medical clinic, social workers and, last week, a bank branch from First Bank.
On St. Louis on the Air, Tabernacle Church lead pastor Andre Alexander — who also serves as president of the nonprofit TCDC — said that his faith first inspired him in 2014 to consider combining the missions of his church with that of community development.
“It’s hard to talk about a God that loves you if you never see the love of that God,” he said. “I think through economic development, empowerment, that's one of many ways we get to see God's love.”
The group’s efforts have sought to address multiple challenges in neighborhoods like JeffVanderLou. Like other communities in north St. Louis, JeffVanderLou saw its population plummet, to fewer than 6,000 residents from a peak of around 40,000 in the 1950s.
Alexander acknowledges the challenges inherent to turning around an area hit hard by vacancy and disinvestment. Before becoming a pastor, he earned a master’s degree in business administration from Webster University and a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri.
He points out that TCDC’s projects haven’t just put 35 families into homes but created 103 construction jobs. The group has rehabbed a total of 18 homes.
“Every home I just talked about was vacant,” he added. “It was vacant, boarded up, in some areas coming apart, and we put it back together, we've restored. And the beauty of doing that is that it casts hope to people.”
For most of the nonprofit’s existence, that work was funded by private donations — but last year, things changed. As reported last year by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis awarded Tabernacle a federal community development grant. That, along with a redevelopment designation from the city’s Board of Aldermen, has opened up even more tools for the nonprofit to spur development, including tax abatements to help existing residents stay in their homes by keeping property taxes stable.
Alexander is thankful for the additional resources. But the process hasn’t been easy. Banks and creditors largely ignored the nonprofit’s efforts. The first bank to give TCDC a line of credit, First Bank, opened a new branch at the Hub community center on Oct. 17.
Still, there’s a long way to go for the area.
“We're talking decades of disinvestment,” Alexander noted, but he added that the construction of the NGA West, and other developments in north St. Louis, present a possibility for real change.
“This is truly a defining moment for us and our city,” Alexander said. “No question about it. Anybody else who says otherwise, I don't know where they’re living and breathing.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.