St. Louis community leaders kick off 3-year Delmar Boulevard revitalization project
Tonnie Glispie-Smith and Lisa Potts are active in their West End St. Louis neighborhood. They both sit on multiple boards for community organizations with the primary goal of improving life for residents and business owners on the north side of Delmar Boulevard.
Earlier this year, Missouri Main Street Connection approved their application to set out on a three-year pilot program to bolster economic development, historic preservation and design along the commercial corridor, stretching east from the Delmar Loop to Kingshighway.
“We're trying to bring some equity and some balance to this community,” Potts said. “It is very obvious that when you're on the west side of Delmar, and when you cross over, things change. It looks different, and we want to create a place where everybody feels welcome.”
Potts and Glispie-Smith are now co-vice presidents of the Delmar Main Street Initiative, which formally kicked off Wednesday with a series of community meetings held at St. Louis Artworks.
Keith Winge, community development director of Missouri Main Street Connection, said the goal is to collect feedback from area residents, business owners and stakeholders about what kind of improvements they want to see in the area. Already, he said what’s resonating with him is that people want to be involved in the process.
“It’s not my plan, it’s not your plan, it’s not the developers’ plan — it’s the community’s plan,” he said. “So it’s bringing the community together. What are the wants and needs?”
Over the next six months, Winge said he will work with four committees, made up of community leaders from the seven neighborhoods that intersect with that strip of Delmar, to analyze the feedback and come up with two or three main areas of focus for the pilot program.
The nonprofit he works for uses a model created by the national nonprofit Main Street Center, which started in the 1980s out of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Branches of the organization help revitalize downtowns across the country by focusing on physical improvements, such as building and streetscape repairs, bringing in new businesses and promoting the area. Winge said that the organization has been talking about building out a pilot program on Delmar for years and that he’s glad it’s finally starting.
Glispie-Smith said the new initiative is a joint effort with many St. Louis leaders who are building up the makers district along Delmar, including Doug Auer, co-founder of Third Degree Glass and Maxine Clark, founder of the new Delmar Divine mixed-use building, where office tenants are beginning to move in.
“If you look at the Loop and how it's like the entertainment district for this area, what we really want to see in years to come is for [the rest of Delmar] to be, not necessarily the same, but to also be vibrant,” she said.
Potts said one thing she’d like to see is more area residents having opportunities to open their own business along the strip, like coffee shops, dry cleaners and other stores.
“We often have to leave the community to find what we’re looking for. Why, when we have this commercial corridor right here available?” she said.
Potts will serve on the economic vitality committee, and she said promoting the area is critical to the success of the project.
“That Delmar Divide is known across the country and we want to change that narrative — and we have to do that from within,” she said.
The St. Louis Development Corp. is collaborating on the pilot project, including financially by covering some of the initial cost of hiring Missouri Main Street Connection.
The nonprofit said it covers about 80% of its initial cost to get the program started. Winge said once there’s a strategic plan laid out, then it’s his job to find funding, be it through local, state, federal or private avenues.
The nonprofit is also working on similar pilot programs with neighborhood groups in Laclede’s Landing, which just kicked off, and Dutchtown, which began before the pandemic.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Lisa Potts will serve on the promotion committee. She in fact will serve on the economic vitality committee.