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A new St. Louis greenway will honor Mill Creek Valley, a Black neighborhood demolished in the 1950s

A new one-mile stretch of greenway planned for downtown St. Louis will highlight stories from a historically Black neighborhood that once stood there — Mill Creek Valley.

The nonprofit Great Rivers Greenway announced plans Friday for the latest project in a sequence of greenways planned to connect the city, called the Brickline Greenway. The new trail will run a mile along Market Street in the Downtown West neighborhood, between Harris-Stowe State University and the under-construction Major League Soccer stadium district.

Damon Davis, a St. Louis-based artist, is designing the art installation.

“I call it a mile-long monument that commemorates a neighborhood in St. Louis that was forgotten and purposely displaced,” he said.

The once-thriving yet segregated Black community of Mill Creek Valley was demolished by the city in the late 1950s in the name of urban renewal. Razing the neighborhood to build a highway displaced roughly 20,000 Black St. Louisans and hundreds of businesses.

A map showing the borders of the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood and the location of Harris-Stowe State University and the MLS stadium currently under construction.
Brian Heffernan
MapBox, OpenStreetMap
Harris-Stowe State University and the MLS stadium currently under construction are within the boundaries of the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood, highlighted yellow.

In coordination with the architecture firm LJC, Davis is designing about a dozen 10-foot-tall granite hourglass-shaped monuments that will be inscribed with the names of former residents along with quotes from them. The monuments will be scattered along the greenway.

Davis said he was inspired by the universal symbol of time passing because marginalized people and places are often erased from history over time. Through his monuments, Davis aims to reenvision what it would look like to freeze time for Mill Creek Valley.

Damon Davis (center) points to an inscription honoring Mill Creek Valley on the inside of a mockup of a series of monuments he's designing to be placed along the greenway.
Great Rivers Greenway
Damon Davis (center) points to an inscription honoring Mill Creek Valley on the inside of a monument mockup. He's designing a series of them to be placed along the greenway.

“And so it’s the idea, like not only uncovering these histories, but hoisting them up so they get the proper respect and dignity that they deserve,” he said.

Davis, who is Black and grew up in East St. Louis, said he wants to make former residents of Mill Creek Valley and all Black St. Louisans proud by honoring their contributions to the city.

He’s been working with former residents such as author Vivian Gibson, who published a book last year about growing up in Mill Creek Valley.

Susan Trautman, CEO of Great Rivers Greenway, said the purpose of the greenway network, including the newest project, is to reconnect the city by transforming how people get around, as well as to build up neighborhoods.

“We want to retain the residents that live there, retain the businesses,” she said, “and then working with the community, attract the kinds of businesses that are needed to have a neighborhood thrive.”

Trautman said the total cost of the full Brickline Greenway, which will run 20 miles, is expected to be $245 million.

Her organization is still raising money to fund the Market Street stretch, which will cost an estimated $19.5 million to complete. She said donors, which she did not name, have offered to match up to $6 million. The portion in front of the MLS stadium is already funded.

Khalia Collier, vice president of community relations of St. Louis City SC, said she could not disclose how much money the ownership group is providing to the project.

She emphasized that financial and other support from the soccer team to help acknowledge the history of Mill Creek Valley is important because its stadium district sits on the same land. Collier hopes to see fans interact with the art installation and learn more about St. Louis history.

“That’s the power of sports, specifically soccer, when you look at the sport itself having the power to unite people and bring them together,” she said. “We know we play just as important of a role in helping move St. Louis forward, even if that means making some people feel uncomfortable along the way.”

The greenway will be constructed in phases beginning next year, with the portion in front of the MLS stadium expected to be completed in time for its inaugural soccer match in 2023.

That year, the art installation will also be part of the Counterpublic civic arts exhibition.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.