South Grand leaders envision new development to draw more people and businesses
The business makeup of South Grand has changed in recent years with major mainstays having announced they’re either closing or moving to a different part of the region.
With these changes, community leaders are examining how redevelopment in the south St. Louis neighborhood and business district can help establish new attractions.
“We need a new anchor on South Grand,” said Rachel Witt, executive director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. “The blessing and the curse of South Grand, we have longevity, but at this time a lot of our businesses are starting to retire.”
This week, the community improvement district released the findings from a study on redevelopment opportunities along South Grand Boulevard and the surrounding streets. The study examined what may be missing from the business district, Witt said.
One core idea that came forward in feedback from existing business owners, property owners, residents and other local stakeholders is a market hall, she said.
“To really become like an incubator space for businesses who are trying to break free but not really ready for a storefront or have the capital, but really want to test out their product,” Witt said.
The study identified underutilized parking lots along Hartford Street east of Grand as a place to develop this concept and bring more density and walkability to the area, said Natasha Bahrami, president of the improvement district.
“It’s really nice to intentionally evolve in a way that we can continue to be a walking district and create opportunities outside of just the buildings that are on our South Grand corridor,” she said.
Bahrami has personal experience with some of the ways South Grand is changing. Cafe Natasha’s, which was owned by her mother, closed last year, though its legacy lives on through The Gin Room, which Bahrami owns. Other mainstays that have closed or moved include King and I and Pho Grand.
“Generations that have been here for decades and decades, a few have decided that they need to go in a different direction,” Bahrami said. “We currently have a really exciting void on South Grand because it’s creating a potential for new energy to come down here.”
Other business owners on South Grand share this feeling and welcome the potential for a bazaar-type market.
“Not everyone wants a very large store, some people want a little cubicle or a little stall, or maybe they want something just really small because they’re starting out,” said Mary Hennesy, co-owner of Urban Matter on South Grand.
Her shop sells items from local crafters and independent ones across the country, she said. Hennesy explained that she’s attracted to the concept of a permanent space where local artisans can showcase and sell their products without needing a storefront.
“We’re so close to Tower Grove to the farmers market,” she said. “Those people who want to be able to sell their wares year round, whether it’s food or a crafted item, they now would have an opportunity to do that. And that also creates exposure.”
Bahrami and Witt stressed that the ideas for redevelopment along South Grand are still in their infancy and may change.
“This is not set in stone,” Bahrami said. “This is an opportunity for us to create a potential, and that potential might look different than what we are talking about right now today.”
Witt said it’s important for the community improvement district to signal to residents, business owners and others in the neighborhood and greater community that they’re open to development. One thing that won’t change though is South Grand’s commitment to small and diverse businesses, she added.
“I love that we have 15 countries, 23 immigrant owned businesses on Grand,” Witt said. “It’s our brand, it’s our identity, and we are not looking to change that, we are looking to grow that.”
The goal is to bring the concepts of today into fruition over the next five years, she said. That begins later this year with requests for proposals and ample opportunity for community members to weigh in, Witt said.
Eric Schmid covers economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.