The Department Housing and Urban Development awarded St. Louis a $29.5 million grant on Monday, December 12 to help revive the city’s near North Side.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro gathered with state and local leaders at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, 1413 N. 20th St., to announce the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant for a neighborhood that has long struggled with poverty and neglect.

Castro said the grant will leverage other recent efforts to rebuild the area, including the Defense Department’s plan to build a $1.75 billion facility nearby for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

“St. Louis is doing a great job at connecting the dots of economic opportunity and quality of life,” Castro said. “This North Side community is on a roll with the NGA, the Promise Zone, the Department of Justice grant and now today nearly $30 million to revitalize this community.”

In 2015, areas of North St. Louis and North St. Louis County were designated as a federal Promise Zone, which gives the region a higher priority in gaining federal assistance and resources.

The most recent grant money will rehab roughly 675 units of Section 8 housing at Preservation Square and reconfigure nearby streets. 

The funding will also help transform the abandoned Carr School into a new community center to be operated by the YMCA and Carr Square Tenant Management Corp. In addition, health, education and job training services will be available to residents of Carr Square, Columbus Square, St. Louis Place and Old North.

Mayor Francis G. Slay's administration worked with Urban Strategies and McCormack Baron Salazar to convene more than 100 meetings of local leaders, residents and stakeholders to formulate the plan for the Choice grant, according to the mayor’s office. Stakeholders included universities, community colleges, the St. Louis Public School District, charter schools, business owners, hospitals and the St. Louis Housing Authority.

"Choice Neighborhoods will serve as a catalyst to create critical pathways for Near North Side families, businesses and stakeholders to thrive," said Esther Shin, incoming president of Urban Strategies, Inc.

Years ago, Urban Strategies led the application process and was the grantee for a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant. Cities must first win the planning grant and create a plan before they can compete for the $29.5 million initiative grant.

Sandra Moore, outgoing president at Urban Strategies, said the nearly $30 million – or $90 million after contributions from city partners – will “put products on the ground” in North City. The city's Near North Side Choice Neighborhood Initiative encompasses Carr and Columbus Square neighborhoods, along with portions of Old North, St. Louis Place and the new home of the Next National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) West campus.

The Choice Neighborhoods grant program began in 2010. More than 30 cities applied for this year's grants, but just five were chosen: St. Louis, Denver, Boston, Louisville, Kentucky and Camden, New Jersey. Combined, the grants are worth $132 million.

"Now begins the challenge of taking this compelling vision developed by the residents and the stakeholders in the community and making it a reality," said Vincent Bennett, president of McCormack Baron Salazar. "It will feel real to all of us when the first buildings start going up on North 14th Street."

Phase I construction is expected to begin by the end of 2017.

For more information on the Near North Side Choice Neighborhood Initiative, visit http://www.nearnorthsidestl.com/.

Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @joemikeleahy

Reprinted with permission from news.stlpublicradio.org.

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