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Report suggests using the former St. Louis Workhouse jail as an industrial site

The city plans to cut funding for the Workhouse from $16 million to $8.8 million due to declining inmate counts.
Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
The former St. Louis Workhouse site could be redeveloped.

New recommendations for the empty north St. Louis jail known as the Workhouse include a memorial and using it as an industrial site.

The report released Wednesday by the city-funded Re-envisioning the Workhouse Committee includes new uses for the building and surrounding 30 acres. Advocates took suggestions from nearly 2,500 residents of nearby neighborhoods and those directly affected by the jail. Nearly 700 residents submitted varying suggestions including a go-kart arena, museum or renewable energy facility.

Consulting teams hired by the City of St. Louis began writing the recommendations 18 months ago. City officials will now consider the proposals, which aim to “advocate for a future that people of St. Louis want to see.” The committee ruled out use of the land for public parks or performance venues due to the land’s potential contamination. It sits nearest to the Baden neighborhood on the north riverfront.

Instead, the Re-envisioning the Workhouse Committee recommends filling the space with a memorial structure and industrial building. The report also suggests it could be used as a shelter for homeless people and their displaced pets if environmental concerns about the land are addressed. Other possible uses include using it to generate solar energy and creating a prairie site.

Committee members plan to fulfill community needs with an off-site resources hub dedicated to memorializing the site’s “emotionally challenging history.” Potential resources include transitional housing and a youth activity center. The report lists other sources of funding for those suggestions, one of them using money from the Rams settlement.

As for the on-site development, committee members suggest a fresh start through participatory demolition.

“The Workhouse is a living breathing monument to racism and white supremacy right here in St Louis and until it is torn down and reparations are made, there will be no healing or closure for the thousands of survivors of the Workhouse,” said Inez Bordeaux, deputy director of community collaborations at ArchCity Defenders and a member of the Re-envisioning Committee.

The jail was described as “hellish and inhumane” by activists. Community members from the Close the Workhouse campaign helped persuade local leaders to shut it in June 2022.

“The injustice caused by these dehumanizing conditions are compounded by the fact that most city detainees have not been convicted of any crime, with an average length of stay running longer than 300 days,” Mayor Tishuara Jones said prior to the facility’s closure.

Jones is expected to work with city officials to make the final implementation decision.

Lauren Brennecke is a senior studying journalism and media studies at Webster University. She is a 2023-24 Newsroom Intern at St. Louis Public Radio.