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Old North St. Louis: What’s old is new again with this real estate development project

*NOTE – This article was originally written in December of 2006 for the newsletter.

When most people hear the words, “North St. Louis”, certain images pop into their heads. Most of them, none too flattering. Unfortunately, this negative perception is not wholly unfounded. With high rates of crime and poverty, and a decaying infrastructure, the area has been in a downward spiral for years.

However, as North City has fallen off most people radar, there are still islands of prosperous businesses and communities that are holding onto the area’s successful past.

One of the most recognizable of these areas is Crown Candy Kitchen. In business since 1913, this landmark is located at 1401 St. Louis Avenue in the Old North St. Louis (ONSL) neighborhood. It still draws patrons from all over the area to one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods just north of downtown.

Once part of a vibrant commercial community known as the 14th Street Mall, Crown Candy is now an island unto itself. Changing demographics and shopping preferences have caused most of the old businesses to shut down.

Although the storied first chapter of ONSL has come to a close, the next chapter is already underway. Crown Candy Kitchen has served as a bookmark to the area’s story, and it is now the focal point of many new opportunities for investors and homebuyers alike.

Taking advantage of this new energy, many development projects have already been completed or are currently underway. The most significant of these projects is the rehab and infill construction taking place at the North Market Place project. The 30-acre development area for this project is roughly bounded by Hadley Street on the east, North Florissant Avenue on the west, Monroe Street on the south and Benton Street on the north.

The project began in 2004 through the efforts of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group (ONSLRG) and the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance (RHCDA). When completed, the project will feature over 100 new and rehabbed single-family homes as well as a variety of commercial and rental spaces. Many buildings have already been completed.
The early success of this project has produced an influx of much-needed revenue and publicity for the area. More and more rehabbers and developers are turning their attention to this northern neighborhood due to the low acquisition costs and respectful profit margins.

Even though progress is being made,, the ONSLRG and RHCDA have not been at rest. They are already hard at work on their next project. This time they are taking on the one-time shopping destination known as the 14th Street Mall. Just south of Crown Candy, the project is set to require an investment of approximately $25 million. The mixed-use development is set begin by the Spring 2007 and take about 18 months to complete. Whether the development could bring similar retail activity to the area as was seen until the 1970’s is debatable, but it will defiantly help the neighborhood along on its path to rejuvenation.

Local volunteers, organizations and developers have put in countless hours to bring the ONSL neighborhood back from the brink of total destruction. Thanks to their efforts, the wrecking balls have been replaced construction vehicles and scaffolding. The neighborhood’s rebirth is still in the infantile stages, but it is going full steam ahead.

Even with the recent activity in the area, there is still a lot of opportunities available for developers and businessmen. The neighborhood has a variety of resources available, which as worth a look for those interested. For more information, check out the neighborhood website at www.onsl.org.

*UPDATE – It looks like this project is finally underway. They were having trouble with the financing, but demolition and construction have started. The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group has a great blog of their own tracking the progress: newoldnorth.blogspot.com

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