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Effort To Spruce Up West Florissant Avenue Moves Forward

Protesters march down West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson earlier this year.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Plans are moving forward to spruce up West Florissant Avenue, the site of intense protests that followed Michael Brown’s shooting death.

Roughly $2.5 million will go toward preliminary engineering on the Dellwood and Ferguson portions of the street. The ultimate aim is to incorporate pedestrian friendly elements – such as new sidewalks and bike lanes – into a 2.6 mile stretch of the road between I-270 and the Buzz Westfall Shopping Center.

East-West Gateway added the initiative, which is known as the West Florissant Avenue Great Streets project, to the St. Louis Transportation Improvement Program in November. Gov. Jay Nixon subsequently signed off on the proposal earlier this week.

“I commend the East-West Gateway Council for moving forward on this project to better meet the needs of North County residents,” Nixon said in a press release. “We will continue to work in a variety of substantial ways to improve the quality of life of Missourians in the region.”

Paul Hubbman, the senior manager of corridor and long-range planning for East-West Gateway, said the plans to redevelop West Florissant Avenue’s commercial areas and transportation networks predated Michael Brown’s death. The preliminary engineering, he said, is a necessary step before any construction can proceed. 

A protester stands on West Florissant Avenue in August 2014.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
A protester stands on West Florissant Avenue in August 2014.

“The pace of public money is very deliberate and methodical,” Hubbman said. “The business community [may be] frustrated by the pace of the public money. They want to rebuild businesses now. This is not about putting people back into their renovated, formerly burned out buildings. This is about the infrastructure to support a long-term vision of what was established by the community through a nine-month process.”

Hubbman said there are plenty of opportunities to make the West Florissant corridor more welcoming to bicyclists and pedestrians. That’s especially the case, he said, since the street itself is a major public transportation hub.

“There’s a lot of transfer activity at the Chambers Road intersection between bus lines,” Hubbman said. “And we have a lot of pedestrian accidents around that intersection. It’s very high when you compare it to other places in the county. Because there is no good facility there for people to cross the street and catch the other bus. Things like that will be addressed.”

Beyond being a central protesting location, some businesses on West Florissant Avenue were looted and burned after a grand jury decided not to indict former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. 

Office of Community Engagement director Maida Coleman
Credit Rebecca Smith, St. Louis Public Radio
Office of Community Engagement director Maida Coleman

Maida Coleman, the state director of the Office of Community Engagement, said refurbishing West Florissant Avenue would be cathartic for residents who dealt with months of turmoil. 

She added that “when the residents see that dollars are being spent to enhance their community, that will tell them that their local community and their state government is serious about rebuilding that neighborhood”

“What I like about this project most is how it’s going to change the landscape of that street and provide pedestrian and bicycle friendly lanes and give young people and folks who have to get to work just better, easier access,” Coleman said. “I think it’s important also because this is a neighborhood, a community that needs to be rebuilt. And no matter what you’re rebuilding or building that infrastructure has to be there.” 

Hubbman said that once preliminary engineering is finished, officials should be able to apply for construction funds sometime in 2016. 

A destroyed business along West Florissant Avenue.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
A destroyed business along West Florissant Avenue.

He said developing corridor after the Ferguson unrest would be challenging.

“It had some ability to attract some private development – not on a huge scale, but definitely you could begin to do things,” Hubbman said. “Probably the interest for private money, with some exceptions, is probably gone for awhile. Meanwhile, public and foundational money – there’s probably more interest now than there was before.”

“The sources of money for the short term are probably different,” he added. “And then what you can do with them and how you go about getting them is different than what we have thought before.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.