Cherokee ComeUnity Hub: Says Who?

Posted by Lyndsey Scott on April 13, 2009 | 53 Comments

A neighborhood project on city land: who decides?

Two mystery mounds of mulch and compost are hanging out in the “Acknowledge Lot” – the pet name for the Cherokee ComeUnity Hub’s hoped-for plaza at the SE intersection of Texas and Cherokee.

I didn’t order it to be delivered.
The Alderman didn’t order it to be delivered.

Still, it hangs out like a thrown gauntlet, asking “Well…what are we waiting for?”

So…. What are we waiting for?

An update:
The Hub team completed the neighborhood meeting circuit during March with a clear proposal for an outdoor community commons to be built on a dormant LRA lot (click here to see the powerpoint presentation).  The project met with generally enthusiastic response and took spoken concerns into consideration, hearing feedback that we need to “start small” while gaining momentum and assessing risks. We stepped back the proposal from a plan to purchase the land and build a permanent plaza,  to a plan to lease  the lot and create a year long green-space with temporary improvements and one season full of community programming to “test” the hypothesis and evaluate with all parties concerned at the end of the season.

The Cherokee Street Business Association’s  letter of support writes,

“The lot is currently an eyesore and a detriment to the street. It is our belief that this project would add to the eclectic ambiance and urban feel, which is the foundation for the renaissance that Cherokee Street is currently experiencing. We hope that these plans are realized without delay so that positive progress on Cherokee Street can continue.”

Both the Benton Park West and Gravois Park Neighborhood Associations prevented discussion or a casual vote to gauge community support from happening during their meetings. Yet, the leadership of each association wrote strong letters discouraging the Hub project.  If you live in these neighborhoods and would like to know how your leaders are representing you, please read their words.

Alderman Ken Ortmann, whose signature is necessary to purchase or lease the LRA lot, refrains from supporting the project — expressing concern that a 501(3)c would not contribute to the district.

Amber Dover ceremoniously offers rich earth from the neighborhood gardens to the site.

During the April 4 Cherokee Street Open House, members of the Hub team engaged the imaginations of children and passerbys in conversations about what the lot could be. Wanting to take a break from the formality and exclusivity of meetings, we brought largescale design drawings, seedbombs, bubble wands, and  colored chalk to share the hope for a people’s plaza in playful ways.  A street drummer and folk singer serenaded as over 125 signatures of enthusiastic support were gathered in less than 3 hours, welcoming the contribution the Hub will make.

The process begs familiar questions:
Who makes the decisions around here?  Whose voices get heard?
Does St. Louis LRA policy meet the needs of the people at large?
Do our leaders represent our best interest?
How can collaborative movement proceed gracefully without the inefficiency of red tape?
How can the city of St. Louis engage willing, creative artistic labor and volunteer energy?

We ask the city to bring what it’s good at and allow us to contribute what we’re good at.

What would it look like for both sides to drop oppositional postures and tactics and move forward, believing that the best solution is one that incorporates each of our skillsets and interests?

I continue to invite Ken Ortmann to welcome the $25,000 investment and creative energy that the Hub team wants to bring,  in a season-long good faith experiment to ascertain the viability of a permanent plaza at the site.   I know he has experience and wisdom that would deepen the success of the project. During our last phone conversation I informed him the Hub would be requesting a garden lease from the LRA, to begin work in the most modest way possible.  Though he did not indicate he would support that request, he did suggest a work day – “to see who actually shows up.”

Due to the stall on the project and energy drain that this political impasse is creating, Incarnate Word Foundation has invited the parties involved to a mediation session next Wednesday evening.

The Cherokee ComeUnity Hub has filed to request  an LRA garden lease from the city for the site.
We ask that the city and neighborhood leaders respond by allowing the community to begin creating the Hub, and treat it as a chance to let NO rest & bring their “YES, and…”

Our neighborhood is at a critical time in its pattern of development. If we want to support the diversity we love, we need to make safe, accessible places we can meet, mix, and share resources. Here we have an opportunity to create a site that offers a new strategy in crime prevention by increasing beauty and human connection.  It behooves us to step up and meet the risks with thoughtful action.   The lot has been dormant too long when we have total power to do what we can to change the scenery.

Let’s experiment.
Let’s engage a new pattern of community interaction.
Let’s see what we can create, together.

If you would like to voice your opinion regarding the future/process of the HUB,  we invite you to share your comments below, and/or contact your representative directly :

In Benton Park West:  BILL BYRD (314) 602-0392

In Gravois Park: RITA FORD

9th Ward Alderman: KEN ORTMANN 314-776-0161

ComeUnity Hub Project Coordinator: LYNDSEY SCOTT 217-898-3777


Cherokee ComeUnity Hub Meetings are potluck-style, pipe-in-all-voices-welcome.
Our next gathering will be  TUESDAY APRIL 28th @ 6:30 PM.
Email me to find out where:


XO Lyndsey

  1. Amber on April 13, 2009 7:19 am

    For Rita Ford, and whoever helped her write that letter, to make such a personal attack is insulting to everyone who has taken part in this community project. It was an open forum meeting to begin with, and has always been held out to everyone in the community to voice their opinions about what project they would like to see receive this grant money. To turn into character review on one person demeans the whole process and all those who have cared to put their voices out there. It’s deplorable. One would think that she prefers to muzzle the concerns of the residents she is supposed to represent.

  2. Pam Lanning on April 13, 2009 7:51 am

    Amber, very well put. Ford’s letter was a personal attack. Ford is not an elected leader. There are just a few people in the area that have been holding the community from progress. They are against everything.
    We need to continue to stand up against them and move forward. It’s our neighborhood too!

  3. Concerned Citizen on April 13, 2009 8:15 am

    The letter from Benton Park West is alarming as well. This money is not from BPWNA, it is from Incarnate Word. If they support the project as proposed, THAT is what matters. For BPWNA to decline support simply because the project is across the street from an arbitrary neighborhood boundary is absurd and frankly selfish and greedy. If this money was to be used exclusively in BPWNA, Jean would certainly not support the proposed Hub on Cherokee. But because she does support it, and it is their money that will be funding it, I truly hope BPWNA will take a moment to realize their error in judgement and come together to help build our neighborhoods in UNITY. The first step in doing so would be to rescind their lack of support because the project is 20 feet outside their neighborhood boundary. I am completely disappointed in the reasoning behind that letter. Again, this is Incarnate Word funding this project. I think if they have given their blessing on the project, BPWNA should support it as well and feel fortunate to have such a great organization to collaborate with.

  4. Alissa Nelson on April 13, 2009 8:25 am

    With regards to the letter from the BPWNA board: Bill Byrd initially proposed a project that would support programming in Gravois and Benton Parks, neither of which are within the borders of Benton Park West. The money awarded by the Incarnate Word Foundation was intended to better BPW AND SURROUNDING NEIGHBORHOODS. To suggest otherwise–especially after a proposal that would actually provide programming in those surrounding communities and not within the neighborhood itself–is hypocritical.

    The personal attacks and infighting that has occurred surrounding this proposal is an embarrassment to this community, and does nothing to encourage the sustainable grassroots development that has made the Cherokee Street area the beautiful place that it is now. Perhaps the reason why such an effort has been made to document this process is illustrated by Rita Ford’s letter: to prevent baseless slander and petty name-calling employed in an effort to maintain the dysfunctional status quo.

  5. Alissa Nelson on April 13, 2009 8:44 am

    On a more positive note, and in an effort to produce a more harmonious dialogue surrounding this effort, I would like to say that the way that Lyndsey engages with ALL of the stakeholders in the neighborhood is completely admirable. Whether or not her proposals are “pie in the sky”, she reminds all of us that we need to join hands with our neighbors – ALL of our neighbors – to build a community that we can truly be proud of, and want to work and live in. Without such positive thinking, we would merely be scrambling alone to maintain the present, rather than working together to build the basis for our future.

  6. Concerned Citizen on April 13, 2009 10:31 am

    Alissa…I’d agree, it is embarrassing for our community. I usually find BPW is very professional in how they present the neighborhood, but I really think the letter they have produced reflects poorly on the leadership of their neighborhood. And personally, for those not from the area reading this, I’m afraid BPW is actually doing more harm to their own neighborhood through the stance they’ve taken on this.

  7. It's on now on April 13, 2009 11:08 am

    The days of petty powermongers are waning. Shirley Wallace, Rita Ford, Ken Ortmann, Craig Schmid — all your days are numbered. This neighborhood is changing and we have visions for what it can become. You can come along, or we’ll move without you and make it known that you are holding back progress.

    Why empty houses and homeless people?
    Why empty lots and lack of parks?
    Why ugly walls and lack of art?
    Why more roads and no public transit?
    Why more jails and crumbling schools?
    Why open growing space and lack of food?
    Why your reality and not our dreams?

  8. 20th Ward on April 13, 2009 11:40 am

    Gravois Park Residents. Are you aware that Shirley Wallace is representing you at different meetings in the area? Shirley says Shirley Wallace Gravois Park. She is making decisions for your neighborhood! She is a part-time worker at Haffner’s Antiques 2100 Cherokee Street and lives in FERGUSON, MO.

  9. Michael Allen on April 13, 2009 12:15 pm

    A budget of $25,000 for a pocket park on a vacant lot is rather generous — far from a “pie in the sky” amount. Most pocket park and community gardens on LRA lots are built with volunteer labor on budgets well below $10,000. The Incarnate Word funding makes this project very feasible and guarantees that the finished space will be attractive and appropriate for a dense commercial district.

    The concerns of the Benton Park West Neighborhood Association are reasonable, but there is no reason why the CommUnity Hub should be the only such space in the neighborhood.

    The density of activity on Cherokee would benefit from a planned community space.

  10. Amy VanDonsel on April 13, 2009 2:54 pm

    I’m in GP and support the project, although I’m not able to attend neighborhood meetings to say so – don’t make it home from work in time. I’d be happy to show up for a project work day on a weekend.

  11. Martha on April 13, 2009 3:28 pm

    I was at the recent BPWNA meeting in which Ms. Scott discussed her proposal for this HUB. I asked several questions and she had several very good, informative and appropriate answers. However, she kept pushing for a vote that even I felt would have been inappropriate as all the facts had not been laid out at that particular meeting. As a relative newcomer, I now have questions that I didn’t think to ask at that meeting.

    The first question that comes to mind is Sustainability. Yes, $25,000 is quite a bit of ‘seed’ money. However, are there estimates on construction? If so, what funding will remain or how will funding be obtained to sustain this endeavor?

    I believe, and certainly hope, that all City Neighborhoods are looking for sustainability and not merely immediate beautification.

    Perhaps Ms. Scott should have presented how she was going to make this work – in dollars & cents – instead of citicizing those who will be left to pick up the pieces if her endeavor fails.

  12. Justin Cleveland on April 13, 2009 4:13 pm

    I just flipped through the power point presentation and it seems sustainability has been addressed quite extensively actually.

    A better question to ask: How sustainable or inviting is that current barren lot at Texas and Cherokee? Rita’s letter makes it sound as though it’s currently the epicenter for all that ails our community. I agree it’s not very pleasant right now. Just about anything would be better which is why I’d love to see what Lyndsey would do with it.

    Frankly I couldn’t be more appalled after reading either of the letters from our neighborhood associations. How pathetic that they can’t accept and support this incredibly generous and refreshing gift from IWF and the ComeUnity Hub organizers. As many have pointed out already, Rita’s letter is downright insulting to anyone who cares about Cherokee and the surrounding neighborhoods. It is so low and so far off base, I can’t even begin to comment on how inappropriate it is and I’m not even sure it warrants any more discussion. So let’s move on without her.

    Bill Byrd’s letter on the other hand is simply apathetic yet appears to have been written with meaningless borders and perhaps some petty grudge in mind. I’m extremely disappointed that the BPWNA is not enthusiastically welcoming this project. I can’t believe he’s citing neighborhood borders and central locations to BPW as justification for their lack of support when they recently relocated their own neighborhood office elsewhere along that same border—if we’re so concerned about proximity and accessibility, their new office is certainly not “in a central location in Benton Park West for all residents to use and enjoy” either.

  13. Megan on April 13, 2009 4:56 pm

    I am a BPW resident who voiced my opposition to the current proposal to my neighborhood board and was pleased to see the attached letter. The primary reason for my opposition is, yes, that the proposed park is outside the boundaries of BPW. I realize that may sound selfish and greedy to pay attention to an “arbitrary neighborhood boundary”, but I live in BPW and first and foremost, my focus, time and resources are going to go to improving BPW. I also have concerns about the sustainability of a project being located in a neighborhood that doesn’t want it. If the existing ComeUnity Hub group would move away or develop other priorities, then who would be available to carry the mantle of this park if its in a neighborhood that doesn’t want it and/or doesn’t have the resources to support it. It isn’t very clear to me how this money came to be offered, but when I saw advertisements soliciting proposals, they were to have the “greatest impact on BENTON PARK WEST and the surrounding areas.” I firmly believe that the way that we can have the greatest impact is to actually use the money IN BPW.

    I resent Ms. Scott’s statement that the BPWNA “prevented discussion or a casual vote to gauge community support from happening during their meetings.” The truth is that Ms. Scott and her colleague arrived late, at the very end of our meeting. The made a brief presentation, already after the time our meeting usually ends. The reason there was no discussion or vote was because there was no time. I realize that they may have had another conflict during our meeting time – but that is certainly NOT the fault of the BPWNA board who are always very diligent about soliciting the input and feedback of their residents.

    I find it hard to believe that this lot is the ONLY lot in BPW or along Cherokee Street that could be suitable for the ComeUnity Hub. That is my biggest frustration with the proposal as it currently exists. We have two offered plans, buy or lease, and are being told that there is absolutely no other suitable lot in the areas. Seriously?!? So if this lot didn’t exist then we wouldn’t be able to proceed with the project at all I suppose…

  14. Amy VanDonsel on April 13, 2009 5:45 pm

    Have any other locations been suggested? (Sorry if this has already been covered.)

  15. Max on April 13, 2009 6:05 pm

    The original post dated October 30, 2008 states greatest impact on the Benton Park West neighborhood and surrounding areas.
    The statement is so clear. It does not say just BPW. The map, along with this post, shows a much larger area than BPW. It is a not even a full block out of BPW. Not supporting this because it is not in BPW is none more than selfish and pouting.

  16. I'm against it on April 13, 2009 6:25 pm

    Leave the lot alone.
    Its currently a open space that reflects the status of our urban life. It represents my lack of concern for someone elses visual pleasure. I like to have a place to throw my empties, I just wouldn’t feel right about pitching trash into a garden. There is no place in our town for forward thinking trouble makers. That money would be better spent hosting a banquet congratulating we who hold strong against those tree huggers and grass lickers. The city is supposed to be brown and grey, that’s just the way it is.
    Who knows, if we leave it alone we might be fortunate enough to get a real business, like Walgreen’s, or Starbucks. So called improvement ain’t all what its cracked up to be. I for one am against it, I’m also against public trash cans, Cinco di Mayo, and tuity fruity artsy fartsy people.

  17. Pam Lanning on April 13, 2009 6:29 pm

    i’ll meet you there 10AM Saturday to drink some tall boys!

  18. Trina Fairbanks on April 14, 2009 7:28 am

    The question about “other lots” is a good one. If you walk the strip, you will see that within the immediate commercial zone there are several vacant buildings, but not so many vacant lots. Even going outside the strip, there is not a ton of space until you get pretty far west on Cherokee. Since this lot is LRA owned, it seems like such a good fit. East of Jefferson has a large, well tended lot that I believe is privately owned and was not an option.

    I am a Gravois Park resident, and will be at the neighborhood association meeting tonight at 6pm. While I left early at the last meeting, which had the presentation about the ComeUnity Hub, and don’t know how much time was available for any commentary (the mayor was coming, so I believe it was quite limited!), I did not get a strong negative sentiment from the crowd during the presentation. If you live in Gravois Park, please come to these meetings, and please speak your mind when the opportunity presents itself. I called Rita Ford and asked to have the Hub presentation put on the agenda, and the month before, asked to have time to talk about my agency (I work for the Missouri Children’s Division), and found her to be open on both occasions. The current letter belies that stance, and I think if more Gravois Park residents pipe up and join in, we can change that letter to one of support.

  19. Concerned Citizen on April 14, 2009 9:33 am

    Despite Megan’s disapproval for the project because it’s not in BPW, she clearly justified the proposed location by acknowledging that the project was designed to have the “greatest impact on Benton Park West and THE SURROUNDING AREAS.” I don’t know why the BPWNA board has chosen to ignore the “surrounding areas” part. Again, it is rather selfish and greedy to not support a project simply because it is literally across the street from an arbitrary neighborhood boundary. The letter from BPWNA declining support is based on the “perspective” that this should be within BPWNA. Knowing that the project was not meant to be ONLY within BPWNA or ONLY benefit BPW, but Incarante Word would confirm that perspective is NOT the intention. And to question the sustainability because it’s a project the neighborhood doesn’t want? Again, just because a select few in BPW and GP are voicing lack of support does not mean they are speaking on behalf of their entire neighborhoods. We all know that the VOICE of the neighborhoods were never even given a chance to vote before these letters of disapproval were composed. It’s unfortunate our neighborhood leaders are allowing the image of our neighborhoods to be tarnished because of their selfish agendas and egos. This is not about BPW vs GP. Any true leader knows collaboration is key to success in any project, so it is quite ridiculous to hear one say I am still holding out hope that the “leaders” of BPW and GP will set aside their egos and truly respect the wishes of the neighborhoods. People aren’t stupid…any potential resident to our neighborhoods that is in tune with urban issues that would be reading this blog will certainly be turned off by the lack of COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT skills displayed by some of our neighborhood association boards. I know if I were reading this as an outsider, I’d easily have crossed off Benton Park West and Gravois Park. That’s probably the worst part of this all…that the neighborhoods are turning off potential interest to our community at the cost of maintaining a stubborn and outdated and COSTLY leadership style that doesn’t represent the voice of ALL residents.

  20. Concerned Citizen on April 14, 2009 9:40 am

    A couple of sentences were combined. Just in summary, I am holding out hope that these association boards will take the time to truly assess the desire of the neighborhoods and come together to support this project.

  21. Alissa Nelson on April 14, 2009 10:02 am

    We should also remember that the community DID voice their preference for this project at serveral points during the open voting period. That is how the ComeUnity Hub was given the IWF seed money. The community has chosen this project, so why won’t our supposed community leaders follow the will of the people?

  22. GravoisPark on April 14, 2009 10:33 am

    Gravois Park residents needs to wrestle control of their neighborhood out of the hands of the current people in charge. I would say Gravois Park Block Link Neighborhood Association BOARD but since we do not have elections….

  23. Ryan Reed on April 14, 2009 12:13 pm

    The ComeUnity Hub would not transform the quality of life on Cherokee or any other street in St. Louis. That’s unfair to say. The hub would be affected by the way the neighborhood acts. Due to the current renaissance and community investment that Cherokee Street is experiencing, a neighborhood park is completely feasible.

    Let take a look at the surrounding environment of the purposed ComeUnity Hub. Directly across the street is Globe Drug, a huge anchor for the neighborhood for over 50 years. Throughout the week during business hours is a steady stream of people. Young families, the elderly, and school age children use the store for shopping. Less than a block east of Texas Avenue is the Black Bear Bakery. This business attracts loads of young adults everyday, especially on the weekends during regular business hours. Foam on the opposite block at the corner of Jefferson and Cherokee will attract a variety of customers for food, coffee, and relaxation during the day and drinks and food during the night. If a second restaurant and bar is able to open at the corner of Iowa and Cherokee this will create another establishment attracting customers and shoppers during day time and night time hours. On the surrounding states streets running perpendicular to Cherokee you have dense residential neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are filled with a wide variety of people who have invested in the area.

    What does this all mean? The variety of uses of buildings in the neighborhood attracts a variety of people to the neighborhood. The variety of people using the neighborhood means a constant stream of people in the park during the day and evening hours. In regards to safety, the variety of people living in and using the neighborhood day and night creates a steady stream of eyes.

    Take Kiener Plaza or Memorial Plaza in downtown St. Louis. These two parks are used during the day when weather permits. However, the dominant use of the surrounding built environment is office work. During the evening the parks are empty because the primary users of the park go home after business hours. This is due to the single dominating use of the surrounding environment as office buildings. This allows for parks to become a nuisance. Even parks surrounded by residential neighborhoods, such as Francis Park and Tillis Park used by families during the day are vacant at night. This is because the park is not supplied with variety of users attracted to the area by a mixture of uses. Families using these parks for play or leisure cannot keep the park continuously populated. The vacant parks in both cases are due to the overwhelming single dominant use of the surrounding neighborhood.

    Creating a mixture of uses keeps the street populated during the night and acts as a neighborhood watch for Cherokee Street. People living and shopping in the neighborhood being to feel a sense of propriety. Especially business owners. In essence, they become the law of the neighborhood. Nobody wants to see broken windows or smashed bottles on the street. The variety of uses for day and night activity limits the amount of crime occurring in the community with the constant follow of people on the sidewalks and streets. A park is a product of its neighborhood. Cherokee Street is being revived. The current use and proposed use of buildings in the immediate area creates a safe environment for the creation of a small park. The park will be used throughout the day by shoppers, mothers, children, workers, neighborhood residents and customers creating and safe and well used park. I totally support the ComeUnity Hub.

    In regard to Rita Ford’s completely unprofessional letter, it appears she is able to create her own “public scorn” without the help of the RFT or Lyndsey Scott. Her letter should have pointed out the improbability of a park at Cherokee and Texas and should not have been a character assessment on Lyndsey Scott.

  24. Susan Sheppard on April 14, 2009 4:36 pm

    The lack of professionalism displayed by the supposed neighborhood leader Rita Ford is shocking. Of course, watching her in action for several years, I shouldn’t be surprised. This is someone who has appointed herself president of the association with no elections. I hope this is a wake-up call for people in Gravois Park to start asking questions about the people (Rita Ford, Shirley Wallace) who are calling themselves their representatives. I would be curious to see if there are any by-laws for the association, if they are a 501c3, why there haven’t been elections, etc.

    It’s been stated several times, but this project was always intended for the “greater neighborhood”. BPWNA has sponsored several events in Benton Park, so for them to suddenly get hung up on the fact that the project is on the south side of Cherokee St. and just outside their border is a convenient way for them to pretend to be stupid and ignorant of the details of this grant. This project was put out to vote and input by the community, and this is what we chose.

    I have to wonder why BPWNA is quick to do projects in Benton Park, while abandoning their main commercial district. Isn’t this what draws people to BPW and gets them to spend money in the neighborhood in the first place? Doesn’t BPWNA use events on the street, such as Cinco de Mayo, to raise money? But conveniently they can say they can’t support this because it is on the border of some arbitrary boundary. If BPW and GP aren’t interested in the commercial district, I’m sure Marine Villa and Benton Park would be happy to annex it.

  25. Amber on April 14, 2009 4:52 pm

    Susan, good point. Someone just asked me last night why the Comeunity Hub doesn’t look in Marine Villa for a location since they have been more supportive of the project. Maybe there is somewhere along Broadway that would be nice. I don’t know. It’s worth thinking about. It’s also a relevant concern right now that the powers that be are strong arming the residents into a position that they hope is defeat.

  26. PamLanning on April 16, 2009 11:25 am

    Where does this stand today?

  27. Lyndsey on April 16, 2009 4:23 pm

    To those who’ve spoken up on this thread: thanks so much for continuing dialogue.

    An update on last night’s mediation: It was difficult and tense, and I am proud of us for trying it out. I am grateful to Incarnate Word for facilitating a new attempt at hearing one another and finding solution.

    Jean Durel and Bridget Flood of IWF, as well as Shirley Wallace (representing Rita Ford), Barb Potts, Trina of GPNA, Amber Dover, Minerva Lopez, Erica of BPW board , Bill Byrd, James McKee, Pam Wucher and myself participated in facilitation provided by Dan Sise of UMSL.

    I heard some great feedback : Barb Potts spoke the historically violent history of the Gravois Park neighborhood and spoke residents’ concerns that an outside plaza would reverse the neighborhood’s efforts toward safety. Erica spoke the need to see a clear business plan to better understand sustainability. There was also a fair share of untruth and anger. Much disagreement is caused by divided this PLACE up with artificial lines into ‘neighborhoods’ with separate agendas, when we experience it as a living thing with permeable boundaries.

    Without getting into details and comments, the basic gist was:


    It’s true: a place to connect cannot be built from fighting. I hope the process, which began in the most exciting, supportive, open-spirited democratic process I’ve experienced, will stay resonant with the spirit of we hope to create. So much amazing interaction has taken place in brainstorms and potlucks, and I hope this will spill over to the ‘political sphere’ soon.

    I view the current rising-up of tension and disagreement indicative of the shifting plate tectonics active as Cherokee evolves into what it is becoming. The ‘old guard’ must open up to the youngun & newcomers’ energy and ideas even as the newbees appreciate the dedication, hard work, wisdom, and history offered by the older generation. Power which is based in personal agenda and in fear or resistance must pass away for power-sharing to be fluent and our native abilities welcomed puzzle-piece together. I feel relaxed and patient as this process occurs. It has to arise to pass.

    I know there is room for all who want to work together at the table.

    Based on experience, I do question if everyone at the table is willing to work Together.
    This seems critical if we are to achieve our potential in this neighborhood. I hope we develop clear leadership and accountability toward this aim, and soften the divides created by adhering to arbitrary boundaries.

    My perspective on how to proceed?
    I don’t think our solution will come from talking or meetings. When we talk, our egos, preferences, and alliances seem to get in the way – but I know we love beauty and want to feel good and safe here. I am not attached to a permanent plaza hub being on the site at Cherokee and Texas, or a particular design or aesthetic. Neither am I willing to overlook the tremendous potential for positive uplift that a beautiful place to gather there will lend to us as a people.

    I believe it is imperative to move the planning process OUTSIDE to include more residents who do not access internet or meetings. This place is to be for all of us.

    I continue to propose a no-strings-attached one-season experiment that would involve:
    > The ComeUnity Hub holds LRA garden lease for site at Cherokee and Texas
    > The city levels and brings water and electric to site
    > The alderman, Hub team, and neighborhood leaders plan work day and develop garden design
    > Neighborhood stabilization officers and local social workers do risk assessment
    >Simple Saturday programming on-site invites neighborhood to meet and collaborate
    >Evaluate together in November to decide how/if to proceed

    What do we have to lose?

    If we are not willing to take this most basic step,
    I propose that the Hub team turn resources toward the Seeds of Change group in collaboration on bringing programming and supporting beautification at all the existent gardens.

    It’s ok if it’s not time yet.

    It will take the entire community to nurture and effect such the overall plan, and we are just beginning the relationships which can see it thru. I say we start small, stop criticizing, let go of “what won’t work” and “what can’t happen”, and focus on what’s enjoyable.

    Ways to move forward?
    Meet a neighbor and come together to the next potluck: Tuesday April 28 at 6:30.

    Communicate directly with your leadership and ask for organizational transparency, if you live within BPW or Gravois Park.

    Call the alderman and let him know you support the Hub’s garden lease and you’d like to come to a garden workday on the site at Cherokee and Texas.

    It is what it is!

    Loving the process,

  28. Lyndsey on April 16, 2009 8:34 pm

    At the CSBA meeting tonight, I asked Ken Ortmann to clarify what he envisions as a work day. He described inviting the neighborhood associations to help clear the lot and plant grass.

    When questioned if he would be willing to collaborate with the Hub team in creating a simple garden space, he answered an absolute no.

    I said plainly that it seems he is not representing his constituents and that I am disappointed in his leadership.

    How is it that we allow one man’s directive to limit an entire district, when a community of people is willing and waiting to contribute their skill and energy?

    Do we let this be the end of the project?

    How can we engage leaders who insist on doing it their way or not at all?

    Or, how do we allow our work here to emerge without continually tripping over the irrationally stubborn, limited-vision NO?

  29. Max on April 17, 2009 1:56 am
  30. OneShoePam on April 17, 2009 7:26 am

    What a shame this great project can’t move forward. What a wonderful addition this would be to Cherokee street.
    I feel like they are acting like parents, making people prove that they
    can handle the task, that they are not good enough.
    If the lot has debris, then why doesn’t the city clean it up! Maybe this needs to be reports to Citizens’ Service Bureau.
    It appears Ford is opposed to change for the community, that she can only see the bad and is full of fear.
    Byrd, I’m very disappointed that he is not supporting this project with all the enthusiasm he supports other projects in the area.
    Wallace from Ferguson, MO…. Next time I can’t make a neighborhood meeting I’m going to have my friend from Maeystown, IL go to represent me.
    Yes, keep moving trying don’t let them win.
    It’s our neighborhood too!
    I have lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, now.

  31. James McKee on April 17, 2009 9:19 am

    After meeting with the stakeholders earlier this week, I sense there is a foundation that we all agree upon.

    *There is no dispute that residents support the Hub.

    *With this particular lot in mind…while there is a common desire to see the same things a safe, clean, open community space with interactive programming that gives us reason to come together, the issue at hand is that some believe do not believe it is possible to achieve those goals at this lot while others do believe it is possible.

    I think the Hub team realizes this. An effort to compromise has been proposed with the Hub now focused on a short-term lease of the lot as Lindsey described rather than an outright purchase. This is an important step for everyone and one I feel should be given a chance by all. No one wants this to become a space where one does not feel safe or welcome. The Hub team needs a chance to show that it IS possible to create this public plaza that is welcoming, clean, safe and fun for all.

    We walked away with clarification of who the project is supposed to benefit. This is a community project, not a neighborhood project. As Lindsey stated above and Sister Jean stated from the beginning, this is to permeate what we know as neighborhood boundaries and benefit all.

    With the Benton Park West letter no longer having any validity, I would like to see the leaders of Benton Park West bring their support to the table.

    I believe Rita Ford and fellow Gravois Park leaders can join the table too. An invitation to work with us to ensure this is ComeUNITY Hub is everything we as a community want it to be.

    This is a project that should be bringing people together. We want to work with those that aren’t confident that this site can fulfill the vision of the Hub. This is my space. This is your space as well. Help us make it what YOU want it to be and help us prevent it from becoming what you DON’T want it to be. A lease of this lot is the best compromise for all parties. It gives Hub supporters a chance to reassess the plan if it proves not to be successful or address the concerns of the community. It also gives the chance to prove that this can be an asset to our community. And since the lot does not generate tax revenue as it is, a short-term lease poses no harm to a lot that is destined to remain vacant for the foreseen future.

    I would love to see our neighbors come together at the next Hub meeting. Let’s try something: let us imagine this is THE lot we are working with for a short period of time. Now let’s work together to make sure we can create the environment there that we all want. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and shoot down a project because of potential problems. It is satisfying to tackle those problems and create something beautiful. ALL of our community leaders know this because they have accomplished it in other projects. We can do this together.

  32. Amber on April 17, 2009 12:40 pm

    From what I hear, Ken is arranging for the neighborhood assoc.(s) to clean up this lot and plant grass.
    I’m confused beyond belief.
    If they are cleaning it up, why not put a sustainable garden in. To plant grass means nothing else is happening there for the meantime. (Grass doesn’t generate tax revenue, it spends it)
    Reasons this is retarded:
    1. planting grass means someone is going to have to water it and mow it so it looks halfway decent all summer.
    2. If there were actual beneficial plants there it would be easier to water, unnecessary to mow, may attract bees, birds, butterflies, etc. which would provide some value to the environment rather than the drain of a “lawn”
    3. To put effort into making it look better, why not allow some sort of garden to be installed. For Example – to plant native plants would actually mean that the maintenance would be low for whoever was to take care of it. AND, there are grants out there for exactly this sort of thing.

    It seems that this recent turn of events is just another step in the saga of control issues that the neighborhood assoc.(s) and the alderman have in saying “what I say is written in stone” and if they are not in control of it then it won’t happen.
    Sadly, this seems to be a prevalent attitude in St. Louis, and while I know it’s not just in our neighborhood, it appears that we have a saturation of it.

  33. Eric Woods on April 17, 2009 1:14 pm

    Can someone please explain why this project needs the support of the neighborhood associations or the Alderman? If the Cherokee Station Business Association has given its support, which it has, and the money is in place to make this happen can’t we do what we want with it? At last night’s meeting Black Bear Bakery proposed a similar project with another empty lot and is getting good support.

  34. Jean Durel on April 17, 2009 4:44 pm

    On May 17, 2008, a huge number of people attended “Blues in Benton Park,” a concert that was co-sponsored by two neighborhoods: Benton Park and Benton Park West (BPW). Two days later Bill Byrd from BPW posted the following message on the BPW list serve: “…If you would like to see more events in Benton Park, such as the concert yesterday, more beautification, more gardens …. it takes YOU the residents to step up and make a difference. If anyone would like to join in the fun, such as the concert yesterday, let any Board member know. You can also call or contact me ….”

    I was delighted and encouraged to see the collaboration between the two neighborhoods.

    Fast forward six months to November 15, 2008 and the Open Space process, sponsored by Incarnate Word Foundation, which was held at the Incubator on Cherokee Street. One proposal which did not make the cut but which had a good amount of support was this: “FREE EVENTS in AREA PARKS: BENTON PARK and GRAVOIS PARK.” Those willing to lead the project included Bill Byrd and Carrie Sleep, current officers of the BPWNA.

    What truly mystifies me, then, is the content of the recent letter (April 2, 2009) to Alderman Ken Ortmann from Bill Byrd stating that the BPWNA cannot support the location of the ComeUnity Hub project because it is outside the boundaries of BPW.

    I’m confused. Bill and Carrie, president and vice-president, respectively, of the BPWNA, proposed and volunteered during the Open Space process to lead a project that would be conducted entirely OUTSIDE of the BPW boundaries. Yet they and other board members refuse to give their support to the ComeUnity Hub because it would be located 20 feet outside of the BPW boundaries.

    If people could cross Cherokee to go to an event led by the BPWNA board in Gravois Park, why are they unable to cross Cherokee to participate in an event at the ComeUnity Hub?

    Come on, folks. Let’s have a return to the kind of good will and collaboration that we saw last year at “Blues in Benton Park” and in the Open Space process. We’ll all be the better for it, and we’ll have a lot more fun.

    P.S. Others have already suggested a good first step: A letter from the BPWNA board to Alderman Ken Ortmann expressing the board’s support for the ComeUnity Hub project would certainly go far towards building the kind of unity that will enrich the BPW neighborhood and surrounding area.

  35. Galen Gondolfi on April 17, 2009 5:27 pm

    Amen! Jean: You are God’s gift to God! We love you! Keep up the good work!

  36. Jason on April 17, 2009 6:15 pm

    Has it really come to this? Do we have to fight and argue with the likes of Rita Ford and Bill Byrd just to plant flowers and do some TEMPORARY landscaping on a publicly owned vacant dirt lot? If this lot was privately owned the city would cite the owner for lack of maintenance, yet our elected officials are blocking a highly talented group of local professionals with $25,000 to spend from improving the space because they can’t see past their egos and personal bias.

    I live directly across the street from the lot. As a resident of Benton Park West I’m disappointed by the BPWNA leadership on this. I attended the meeting where the project was proposed and it was well received. I asked Bill Byrd during the presentation if it would be possible to take an informal vote to gauge the level of support from the association. He responded “absolutely not”. A few weeks later a formal letter against the project was drafted by the BPWNA officers via email without even holding a board meeting.

    Bill Byrd has a history of bias against Cherokee. In his own words: “Most of the neighborhood residents in BPW don’t go down to Cherokee street because they don’t agree with what’s happening or not happening in that stretch.” I can’t accept that this is an accurate reflection of the views of neighborhood. I also don’t believe that this project doesn’t directly affect Benton Park West. In fact, most of the residential units within 300′ of this space are located in BPW (not Gravois Park). I’ve personally spoken to every one of these residents and didn’t hear a singe voice of opposition. This project is being stalled by a few leaders who are out of touch with their constituency.

    Also, I think it’s important to note the hub team has made a number of compromises over the course of this process in an effort to come to an agreement. Unfortunately the leadership of both GP and BPW along with the alderman have held firm against the project.

    A work day to plant grass is not a compromise. For the reasons outlined in Amber’s post, grass isn’t even a step in the right direction. It’s time for these leaders to listen to the residents or make space for someone who can.

  37. angelos on April 18, 2009 2:11 pm

    I am wondering about something, namely: the lots right next and diagonal from the proposed Hub space.

    There is that completely un-used parking lot behind Globe Drug and the parking lot the Dollar Store and Save-A-Lot have…but don’t need nearly that much of.

    Is it possible to acquire those spaces while in the process of getting the corner space at Texas and Cherokee? Once the whole hub-bub over the LRA lot is settled the spaces can merge into a much larger plaza.

    Also, having neighboring plazas that are able to prove the viability and popularity of the idea would surely help in finally acquiring the LRA lot.

    Any chance Globe might give up its parking lot? (Or, is that city owned? It is heavily metered).

  38. OneShoePam on April 19, 2009 10:49 am

    Good questions! Can a different lot be bought for this project?
    Also, Marine Villa took back their neighborhood association from Alderman Schmid who was
    the president. Can you imagine any alderman being president of their neighborhood association! It wasn’t easy to do, Schmid wasn’t nice in fact it was ugly. He tried the same excuses, all new residents, all young. When the association switched hands back to the residents there was only seven bucks in the checking account and they were not an 501c3. They are now! Within in a year there was over $1000 in the bank. I’m trying to say, is it time for residents to take back their neighborhood associations if you want change. That is the way I see it.
    To me, it appears GP and BPW are against everything on Cherokee.
    30 year resident 52 years old!

  39. Eric@CAMP on April 20, 2009 1:33 am

    re: Eric Woods

    Alderperson support is generally needed to buy an LRA property

    I would be worried at this point, that even if the HUB was a resounding success, the powers that be would find a way to take the lot back for development purposes once any temporary lease is up.

    This shouldn’t even be an argument. It’s a vacant lot. It’s been a vacant lot for years. It’s going to stay vacant, especially in this economy. The community wants to use the vacant lot for something, the community ALREADY OWNS the lot (never forget that it what public ownership is – it’s not Ken’s personal property).

    The unspoken subtext to all the complaints is that we don’t want people hanging out, we don’t want people loitering, we don’t want anything that might possibly make this neighborhood attractive for the people already living here – we just want to push them out and replace them.

    We have one Alderman (Craig) who seems to only introduce board bills if they are related to criminalizing loitering, making curfews stricter and imposing liquor moratoriums. Now we have Ken Ortman stomping his feet and saying “You can’t do this because I say so, that’s why”. Meanwhile, Shirley Wallace who doesn’t even own property or live down here is still speaking on behalf of the neighborhood??

  40. evad on April 20, 2009 11:08 am

    I propose we use the money to construct a life-sized mock up of a Starbucks out of cigarette butts and beer bottles on the lot. Mirroring the hopes & aspirations of our community leaders juxtaposed with the reality of their incessant vacant property hoarding.

  41. Mark1 on April 20, 2009 11:20 am

    While planting grass at the Texas and Cherokee lot would make it look nicer, I don’t think many people are going to feel inspired to volunteer their time to plant grass. Gateway Greening is having their Perennial Divide in early May which could be a great source of free bulbs, shrubs, trees, herbs and other perennials. I could see a lot of people feeling inspired to plant perennials in a work day at that lot.

    With the foreclosure crisis expected to continue into 2010, I don’t expect anyone to propose building a new commercial building there anytime soon. The Hub would contribute so much more to Cherokee Street. I don’t think these neighborhood association fiefdoms that Shirley Wallace, Rita Ford and Bill Byrd have constructed will last much into 2010.

  42. Amy VanDonsel on April 20, 2009 12:51 pm

    Yeah, planting grass is a silly idea. Almost as silly as paving and gating empty lots in such a way as to render them nearly unusable. But more importantly, Mark1 is right. It’s something that no one cares about, is inspired by, interested in, or enticed to use. And if people don’t care, that not only defeats the entire point, but pretty much guarantees failure. If people are interested enough to disagree about details, that can be productive, but apathy, not so much.

  43. Ben West on April 20, 2009 11:33 pm

    For some inspiration about what the Empire lot could possibly become in 10years, check out these photos of a community garden in East Village, Manhattan, NY called the 6th & B Garden.

    Indeed, here are pix that I took of the 6th and B gardens:

    Building a large, multi-purpose community space like this, not just a garden, could very well need $25k.

    Imagine what sort of “trash tower” that we could make!

  44. Ben West on April 21, 2009 12:24 am

    Also, to quote a blurb from the history of the 6th and B gardens…

    “In 1985, a new, more serious challenge loomed. The garden lies on City land taken from former owners
    in lieu of back taxes. The City held that the land should be sold at auction to the highest bidder. Arguing that housing was the highest and best use of the land, the City administration hatched a scheme to
    sell the site to high-end housing developers. The plan was officially adopted by the Community Board,
    backed by some housing advocates who took the short-sighted view that the land’s potential value in a
    resurgent housing market should be captured to fund low-income housing construction.

    An aroused garden membership drew up an outreach program to steer the interest of the housing lobby away from this valuable and vital, much needed green space. They threw open the gates of the garden, holding their first annual Corn Roast and Harvest Festival, invited members of the local clergy and an Onondaga Chief to come bless the land, and unveiled a stunning garden trellis by a local sculptor.
    Alliances were made with a local garden coalition and community planners. An events committee was formed to tap the skills of the many artist members, who staged programs of crafts, horticultural/science
    workshops, slide shows, multicultural festivals, and performances from around the world. The events program, now in its seventeenth year, runs all summer, featuring over 75 free events annually,
    drawing thousands of visitors. In addition, three preschool centers joined the garden; garden members
    developed an environmental curriculum to teach the children gardening and nature principles and skills.

  45. Virginia Gilbert on April 21, 2009 11:11 am

    I was at the Benton Park West Association meeting where Lyndsey presented the HUB proposal. I do not recall the leadership (that is, Bill Byrd) preventing discussion. In fact, I recall a lively discussion, with many positive comments.
    But that was in March, and we missed the April meeting, so I may be behind in my impressions. I am surprised at Bill’s opposition, and I am dismayed at the belligerent letter from the woman in the Gravois neighborhood association.
    What a flaming!
    So, OK. Lets all chill, people.
    Whoever was proposing a mediation is right on. Did that happen yet?
    I see part of the dynamic here is about grant money, which is always in short supply. I am reminded of a pithy saying from an old Texas pol: “When the feed gets low the horses start biting each other.”
    Lets not bite each other.
    You need your aldermen’s support. And they need your vote. It’s going to take more than enthusiasm and a good Power Point presentation to get the political support you need for this project. Calling people names — even those who write snarky insulting letters — isn’t going to help. (on either side). Slow down, breathe. And those people who have cooler heads and good political savvy, rise up and start repairing bridges. (I’m going to call Bill Byrd today. He seems to me to have the welfare of the entire region at heart.)

  46. scott on April 22, 2009 9:59 am

    the letters from the “leadership” are embarrassing.the progress in my neighbohood that i’ve seen has come from grass-roots residents and business owners on cherokee only. we support forward creative thinkers like Ms. Scott.

  47. Amber on April 22, 2009 11:30 am

    If you feel that way about Bill Byrd you might be surprised to hear some of his comments regarding this lot, and the community in general.

  48. Doug on April 27, 2009 12:46 am

    So have any of you thought about stepping up and getting involved and maybe running for an office in the neighborhood association? I am on the board in my neighborhood and being on the neighborhood association is a lot of work and energy. I hate to see the comments about Byrd, he is just the President of the association. He most likely didn’t even vote. I know in my association the President can’t vote…So why is this all about him and not the neighborhood association board?

  49. max on April 29, 2009 8:18 am

    “Most of the neighborhood residents in BPW don’t go down to Cherokee street because they don’t agree with what’s happening or not happening in that stretch.”
    by Bill Byrd Benton Park West President

  50. Amber on April 29, 2009 11:38 am

    That is just one quote, there were many more out there, and this has been going on longer than the ComeUnity Hub project has been around.

  51. Pam Wucher on May 1, 2009 9:34 am

    Doug, What association are you with? The Hub Team would love to collaborate further with other associations. I am also a member of my neighborhoods board. Many of the residents involved in this project have either been involved with their neighborhood association at some point, still are or have been involved in the revitalization of this community in some capacity for some time, be it community gardens, community programming, community art, business owners along Cherokee…etc. There are so many ways we can all be involved and developing good relationships with surrounding neighbor associations is key to stay in touch with all residents. The Cherokee district and its surrounding neighborhoods are filled with diverse personalities. We aren’t all going to agree with each other, however we all need to step to the middle, collaborate and yes even compromise at times. The hub team would welcome any and all involvement from those that are interested and even those that are skeptical…in fact if some of those that are in disagreement would join us at our next meeting and let us know what issues concern them we can all address them together and find solutions that will truly make this plaza something that will enhance the Cherokee area for everyone, including the BPW neighbors that do not currently feel comfortable walking down Cherokee- this project is for everyone and in keeping with Incarnate Words mission for this project…it is about building relationships…The Hub Plaza can bring together the most unlikely pairings…it already is, lets continue together.

  52. Concerned Neighbor on November 15, 2009 9:59 am

    *What is the status of this worthy project?

  53. alive in our hearts on November 19, 2009 7:28 pm

    Oh, you mean you didn’t notice all the improvements Alderman Ortman made to the lot this summer and fall

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