West Florissant Avenue in North St. Louis County drew national attention in 2014 for being Ground Zero of the Ferguson uprising.
The abandoned Springwood Plaza at 10148 W. Florissant Ave. is just one mile north of the Canfield Green apartments, where Mike Brown was shot and killed by a former Ferguson police officer in August 2014.
It’s a place where Pastor Ken Jenkins, of Refuge and Restoration Church, used to walk to shop with his family in Dellwood. But for more than 15 years, it has sat vacant.
In October, Ken and his wife Beverly Jenkins will lead the start of construction on a $15-million redevelopment project at the plaza, which will include centers for workforce development, early childhood education, financial empowerment, entrepreneurial advancement, and a multiplex facility that will host community opportunities, such as a church, health and wellness, events and the arts. It’s set to open in spring/summer of 2021.
“So much has happened in our community from Ferguson to Dellwood, and the residents have experienced a lot of emotional trauma,” Ken Jenkins said. “Many people in the community have been praying about something impactful happening in that space. We feel privileged and humbled to be able to redevelop that location because it’s much, much needed and it’s going to change many people’s lives.”
Ken’s sister-in-law runs Kathy’s Kitchen, a landmark in this community, and his parents lived in Dellwood.
“When we talk about the relationships we have in the community, they are deeply rooted,” Ken said.
The couple’s commitment to social change also runs deep. In 1999, the couple started the Refuge & Restoration nonprofit organization, which focused on giving men who were coming out of prison the housing and resources they needed to restart their lives. Then in 2004, they started the Refuge and Restoration Church, which now has about 300 members and is a service-focused, Bible-based church.
The nonprofit is purchasing the land for the new R&R Marketplace property and is leading the construction. Summit Real Estate Group is helping with the acquisition and development of the project. The funding is coming from private donations, federal tax credits, and corporate support as well.
The project is expected to reach more than 250 children, almost 800 unemployed adults and 3,000 unbanked or underbanked individuals.
The new marketplace will include the Brilliant Angels Early Childhood Academy, “where little lambs go to learn,” said Beverly Jenkins, who is also a pastor at the church and co-founder of the nonprofit. The North County Innovation Center will be “a buzzing co-working space with all of this energy,” she said. It will be run in association with Cortex Innovation Community (CIC), located in the Central West End.
Kim Plank, former general manager of CIC Centers for Emerging Technologies, said there are a number of people who have no way to access what they offer in the city’s central corridor.
“There are hundreds of people with great ideas who are already starting new businesses,” Plank said. “If we could just give them access to the opportunities, the programming, the connections to strategic community building that other people have access to here, who knows what can happen.”
Employ St. Louis will be the project’s jobs training program, which will use the Jobs For Life curriculum. There will also be spaces for primary health care and behavioral health groups, which the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted as a crucial need, they said.
And there will be a bank, as well as financial literacy programs to help families learn or expand their wealth-building opportunities.
“Most people can’t walk to a bank because they are too far away,” Ken said. “We want to provide the resource of a real banking partner, where people know your name. That’s important because there is a lot of distrust in our community with banks.”
The church will use the multiplex area for services on the weekend, but the space can be used for a number of other things during the week, such as food outreach and social services.
“As a city, we should want our neighbors to have access to equitable resources which will lead to economic stability and social mobility,” said Dellwood’s mayor Reggie Jones. “Refuge and Restoration and the R & R Marketplace will bring equitable opportunity for our neighbors in Dellwood, Ferguson, Jennings, and beyond and will lead to a transformative community and a healthier ecosystem.”
The area was given a federal Promise Zone designation in 2015, due to the high unemployment, high crime and mortality rates and its significant numbers of vacant lots, abandoned buildings and homelessness.
Erica Henderson, SLEDP Promise Zone director, said, “The opportunity to have that type of transformative and innovative project that is intentional about connecting residents to real opportunities is something that I get up every day for.”