Community Development at Work: University Square CDC

University Square CDC Taps Potential in North St. Louis County

University Square Community Development Corporation (USCDC) may be most recently well-known for the Natural Bridge Great Streets project, an initiative that developed multi-use pedestrian paths along Natural Bridge Road to promote safety, accessibility, and opportunity. Phase One, completed in the spring of 2016, created this stretch of pedestrian paths beginning on Hanley and traveling east to Lucas and Hunt. Final outcomes included a raised median, additional storefront development, enhanced landscaping, a four- to two-lane road conversion, a traffic circle, and far more pedestrian activity. The project was made possible through a collaboration between USCDC, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT)Great Rivers GreenwayEast-West Gateway Council of GovernmentsBi-State DevelopmentNorth County IncorporatedSt. Louis CountySt. Louis City, and the City of Normandy.

Enrique Flores, USCDC Real Estate Development Director

Enrique Flores, USCDC Real Estate Development Director

Enrique Flores, USCDC’s Real Estate Development Director, emphasizes that reviving Natural Bridge Road—beginning with the Hanley to Lucas and Hunt stretch—is an important initiative that’s already generated community-wide ripple effects. Nearby are an elementary school and library, and the new multi-use pedestrian paths have helped to enhance safety for passersby of all ages. The higher frequency of walkers and bikers has in turn drawn more businesses to the newly renovated area. Moreover, since the Great Streets project took place around the same time as renovations at the St. Louis Public Library, the heightened foot traffic brought by the pedestrian lanes prompted the library to extend their hours and ensure that the paths around the building were well-lit into the evening.

“In the end, the project was very well received,” Flores remarked. “It improved pedestrian access and highlighted investment.”

Phase Two of the Natural Bridge Great Streets project will continue from Hanley to Interstate 170. “The first issues to tackle are to clean up the street, address the runoff issue, clean up the infrastructure, and facilitate pedestrians up and down the street,” Flores said. USCDC is currently working with MoDOT to determine funding for engineering. This project area could help draw more business and foot traffic to strip malls, drive-up services, and residential areas nearby. Flores referred to this potential as a “wave effect”: with each project completed at the center, whether it’s development or collaboration between organizations and communities, more opportunities open up.

USCDC is currently working with property owners to create transit-oriented development (TOD) opportunities at the North Hanley MetroLink station. Alongside adjoining properties, the North Hanley MetroLink station constitutes a 50-acre project area with 30 acres immediately available for development. Enrique notes that this is an ideal location for redevelopment: it’s one of busiest MetroLink stations, and is close to Lambert International Airport, the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), and North Park, the fastest growing industrial park in the St. Louis area. USCDC’s service area encompasses stable communities that could benefit from expanded development of hospitality, retail, dining, and conference spaces.

When done well, community development provides a voice for those that are directly impacted by development changes in an area, and USCDC has made it a priority to incorporate the direct input of community members. To engage residents and amplify community voices, the CDC uses community forums, focus groups, and public panel discussions featuring community stakeholders. Event attendees typically include residents, business and property owners, political figures, and UMSL faculty, staff, and students.

USCDC has also made inter-organizational collaboration a priority by leveraging relationships with their partners, who in some cases have conducted past community forums in an area of USCDC’s interest. Instead of asking the same group of people to meet several different times to report the same information to various organizations, USCDC consults with their partners and incorporates information they have already gathered into their work and planning. For example, in the area affected by USCDC’s North Hanley MetroLink station development project, resident UMSL staff and faculty can informally address their neighbors to gauge a sense of what a community response to USCDC’s initiative might look like.

USCDC continues to seek new methods for conducting community outreach. One new initiative, for instance, involves a group of UMSL alumni hosting coffee gatherings at their homes to update their neighbors and fellow alumni on USCDC’s plans and projects. Ideally, these gatherings will address the need for communication between the university and the community, bring in different perspectives, and provide those gathered with an opportunity to voice opinions and concerns. The chancellor of UMSL, who sits on USCDC’s Board, also offers a venue for connection and exposure by hosting quarterly community meetings on Saturday mornings.

As USCDC works to grow its development arm, their goal is to continue to provide a critical link between the community and developers. This offers potential development partners insight into the types of business and community initiatives they should consider bringing into the area—such as coffee shops, drugstores, grocery establishments, and other businesses.

In the meantime, USCDC is ready to spread the word about the North Hanley MetroLink station initiative and Phase Two of the Natural Bridge Great Streets project. Their objective is to gain traction, generate buzz in the community, stimulate resident involvement through forums and panels, and produce an outcome that’s suitable for everyone.

The map below outlines the Natural Bridge Great Streets Project. Click the image to access a full-scale PDF copy.

Written by Elisabeth Coats, CBN Practicum Student