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Saturday, February 6, 2016

It’s Time for a Change

A Message from Sean Thomas, Executive Director
Old North St. Louis Restoration Group
Thank you!
I can’t think of any other way to start this message other than to say thank you to so many of you who have been a part of my work at Old North St. Louis Restoration Group over the past 12 years. Those years have been thrilling, nerve-wracking, awe-inspiring, a lot of fun, occasionally frustrating, and so much more - and sometimes all of that in the course of one day. However, this roller coaster ride has to end sometime. That end is now on the horizon, although the exact date of my last day as ONSLRG’s Executive Director is still to be determined. I want to finish up some commitments and be here to celebrate some of the big events on our calendar, such as the Old North House & Community Tour on Sat., May 7, so, I’ll be around for a little while.  Even after I’m off the payroll, I look forward to continuing my support for the work of ONSLRG in whatever way is helpful. At the very least, I can assure you that you’ll see me periodically at Crown Candy, La Mancha, North City Farmers’ Market or Old North’s First Friday Art Walks.
As I begin the process of winding down my duties, cleaning out my desk, and passing along my responsibilities, I want to pause to acknowledge some of the people who helped bring about so many of the incredible things that have taken place in Old North.
I have had the privilege and honor of having the best seat in the house to witness a genuine, community-driven transformation that has been called “one of the country’s best revitalization stories.”
The highlight reel of all that I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of at ONSLRG could go on for hours, so I’ll have to settle for the following:
I.  A baker’s dozen of memorable moments, events, and developments (& the people behind them) from the past dozen years;
II. A brief summary of the reasons to be excited about Old North’s future; and
III. A few suggestions for how YOU can help support the ongoing revitalization of Old North.
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12 (+1 more for good measure) Highlights of Developments, Neighborhood Changes, & Groups of People that I Am Thankful to Have Been a Part of…
1. North Market Place Homes
The list has to start with the North Market Place new homes, for two reasons: (1) that development represented, at the time, the single biggest and most visible sign of new investment in Old North in many years, and consequently served as a catalyst for a lot of the other positive developments that followed; and (2)  because by the time I started with ONSLRG in 2003, the community had already been working on the plan for several years - and residents of the community were adamant that this new development would reflect and respect their values and vision for the community. Many pieces had to come together to make it happen, including finding the right partners with capacity, but it all started with a vision and a plan crafted by the community, facilitated by members of ONSLRG’s Board and staff, including John Burse, Will Winter, and Tom Tschetter.
That project was made possible by more people and organizations than can be listed here, but key players from outside Old North included staff who were at Regional Housing & Community Development Alliance at that time, notably David Dodson, Aaron Burnett, and Lloyd Simms, who spent a good chunk of the next several years working with us on North Market Place and two subsequent projects. All of those deals were complicated, but David, Aaron, and LLoyd were always respectful and collaborative in working with their community-based partners.
2.  North Market Apartments
The next game-changer in Old North was the North Market Apartments, which involved rescuing multiple historic buildings that were well on their way to complete collapse. The transformation of those 9 eyesores into 32 decent, attractive, and affordable rental apartments sent a powerful message to residents and visitors alike that something big was going on in Old North. That development also provided a good case study of how affordable and attractive rental housing not only can be compatible with market-rate, for sale housing, it can also boost the sales of new homes.
Because of the success with attracting investment and people to new houses and rehabbed apartments in the North Market area, and the track record of a good partnership between ONSLRG and RHCDA, combined with the talent and skill of general contractor, E.M. Harris Construction Co., the next big thing to follow was probably the largest and most complicated development deal any of us will ever be a part of…
3.  Redevelopment of the Former 14th Street Pedestrian Mall into Crown Square.
I can’t say enough about that project, but it will forever be a highlight of my career, not just because of the scale of the $35 million, 27-building development but because of the phenomenal team of people who were part of that endeavor, from our development partners, architects, contractors and sub-contractors, and the very patient neighbors and nearby businesses who thought the project would never end.
4.  Rescuing & Securing the Mullanphy Emigrant Home
Some of the same parties who helped make Crown Square possible, especially E.M. Harris and Rosemann Architects, also pitched in to support ONSLRG’s efforts to rescue the Mullanphy Emigrant Home from a demolition order issued by the City of St. Louis after a devastating storm blew out much of the south walls in 2006.
Until some passionate preservationist neighbors encouraged ONSLRG to lead the efforts to save the building, the end was almost certain for the architecturally, culturally, and historically significant Mullanphy Emigrant Home, which had been built in 1867 and anchored the southern end of Old North. The cause was even closer to being declared hopeless almost exactly a year later when another storm blew through the building and knocked out much of the north wall.
The Mullanphy building is still around today because of the generous and determined support from neighbors and hundreds of others from throughout St. Louis who rallied to support the cause with contributions of money, time, and other resources. That list also is too long for this space (but you can click on Mullanphy Emigrant Home in the Categories section in the right column to see the dozens of blog posts, which provide a lot more detail of the project and the people who made it possible).
5. Partnerships with University of Missouri- St. Louis & MU Extension
The importance of physical and visible transformations cannot be overstated in the process of changing the trajectory of a neighborhood, but sustainable revitalization requires so many other pieces to fall into place.
As with everything I’ve noted so far, there have been multiple key partners who worked closely with ONSLRG to advance a very ambitious, comprehensive, neighborhood-wide revitalization strategy. On several different occasions, a few individuals at University of Missouri - St. Louis, and their colleagues at University of Missouri Extension, stepped up to play key roles.  Kay Gasen, Andrew Hurley, and John McClusky (and others) were already involved with ONSLRG as part of a 3-year community-university partnership when both Kay and John encouraged me to pursue the position of Executive Director.  So, for that alone, I extend my tremendous appreciation to both of them.
Those university connections produced so many important elements of how the story of Old North is told (from the history book, DVD, and brochure for the history trail) - and resources that helped shape the way ONSLRG has operated (including strategic planning assistance from John McClusky on 3 separate occasions). Andrew has captured the history of Old North in more than one book and has worked with us to develop tools for using that rich history to guide plans for new, in-fill construction.
6. Old North Grocery Co-op
Kay and her colleague, Kara Lubischer, from the Extension side of the university system, brought tremendous insights, research, resources, and connections to ONSLRG’s work to launch the Old North Grocery Co-op in 2010 - and practically worked out of the ONSLRG office for several months.
The whole experience of the community-driven planning process and the massive amount of work put in by residents and friends of Old North served as yet another demonstration of the do-it-yourself approach and community-entrepreneurial spirit of Old North. And, even though not everything will turn out in the ways we want, that shouldn’t hold us back from experimenting and trying new and ambitious approaches to seemingly intractable challenges, especially when no one else is doing anything about it.  The very fact that the Old North Grocery Co-op made it to a successful launch was nothing short of a miracle, with the right people, resources, funding, and a vision coming together at just the right time  – thanks to Missouri Foundation for Health and the Empowerment Zone, property owner Ken Kranzberg, university support from Kay and Kara, and so many residents and friends of the community.
7. North City Farmers’ Market
The co-op wouldn’t have happened at all had it had not been for our experience with the North City Farmers’ Market, which had its very modest start in 2007, with funding from Missouri Foundation for Health and an initial vision created by our friends at New Roots Urban Farm.
The primary focus of the market has been to bring fresh, healthy, and affordable foods to the heart of the neighborhood, but we have always seen the market as more than just a place to buy stuff. For 20 Saturdays in a row over the past 9 years, the market has been a great gathering place where residents and visitors of diverse backgrounds can come together to celebrate community, enjoy live music, children’s activities, exercise and fitness, cooking demonstrations, and much more. All of that requires a dedicated team of volunteers who come out week after week after week. Thank you to all who have given of their time and labor to make the market happen!
8.  Community Gardens
With the distance of a short block from the 13th Street Garden to the North City Farmers’ Market, we really have the “shortest distance from harvest to market” here in Old North.
The 13th Street Garden - and Old North’s 8 other community gardens, have been cultivated and maintained by a dedicated team of garden volunteers, with years of support from Gateway Greening, and free use offered by land owners, Ken Kranzberg (for 13th Street) and the City of St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority (for most of the other gardens).
9.  Strong & Enduring Anchor Businesses
One of the most encouraging developments in recent years has been the arrival of new businesses and nonprofit service providers, but special acknowledgment needs to go to the businesses that have stuck it out during the tough times and are still going strong today, from Marx Hardware to Headhunters Barber Shop, and Crown Candy Kitchen (which provided caloric support for countless meetings with visitors, prospective homebuyers, development partners, funders, and friends over the years, not to mention many years of ice cream for our house tour attendees).
10. A Vibrant & Growing Arts-Supporting Community
Further evidence of the vibrancy and creativity of Old North can be seen in the windows of the neighborhood’s galleries, music at the corner plaza, exhibits and events, such as First Friday Art Walk, and special programs, such as last September’s Shakespeare in the Streets (thanks to Shakespeare Festival St. Louis).  So much of the art in Old North has benefited from support from Regional Arts Commission, including many years of grants to ONSLRG.
11.  Neighbors Working Together To Create a Safe & Supportive Environment
Many visitors remark about the “small town” feel of Old North, largely due to the warmth of the community and the way residents look out for each other.  Among the positive byproducts of that attitude has been a steady reduction in crime over the years (down 42% from 2010-2015). That type of progress doesn’t just happen automatically, especially when surrounding areas or citywide numbers have not experienced the same results. Residents and businesses all over Old North deserve credit for that, but among the leaders deserving acknowledgment are Vela Hermann and members of Old North’s Neighborhood Ownership Model team, including ONSLRG staff and current and past 4th district police representatives, such as Officers Lori Wozniak, Rich Schicker, Jamie Partee, and Capt. Kreismann (and several other captains before her), as well as the many neighbors who show up for community meetings, who call their neighbors when they they have reason for concern, and go out of their way to pick up litter.
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12.  A Wonderful Staff of Dedicated and Caring Individuals
The day-to-day work of running Old North St. Louis Restoration Group has been a team effort from the beginning, and virtually everything ONSLRG has worked on over the years involved full staff participation, regardless of job titles or official responsibilities.  I have had the pleasure of working with an amazing group of individuals, including:
- Jane Smith, office manager through 2013…
-and other former staff members Irvetta Williams, Karen Heet, and Claire Wolff;
- as well as the great team we have today: Community Development Specialist Matt Fernandez, VISTA Health Initiatives Coordinator Jessica Payne, VISTA Sustainable Development Coordinator Brendan Ziebarth, and AARP Senior Service Corps Receptionist Charlotte Harris.  I can’t thank these individuals enough for their constant above and beyond the call of duty efforts. A more detailed description of that will have to come later.
…and it shouldn’t go without noting that our staff benefited greatly from support provided by a very long list of interns and practicum students over the years. I wish I could name them all here, but that, too, will have to wait until later.
13. Caring, Thoughtful, and Committed Board Members
Finally, my greatest thanks go to the people who have entrusted me with this job. The group of people who set the course for the organization, ONSLRG’s Board of Directors, come from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences, but they share a common sense of purpose in making Old North the “Best Place to Live” that it is today.
Special thanks to the two Board members who were around in 2003 and have offered reliable support and encouraging words ever since, Gloria Bratkowski and Dave Eisenbraun.
Three other Board members who, sadly, are no longer with us  - Johnnie Owens, Rev. Richard Taylor, and Tom Tschetter -  brought different talents and perspectives to the Board but always provided inspiration to keep moving forward, regardless of any hurdle.
Over those years, the Board has enjoyed leadership and direction from 3 different Board Presidents, each bringing his own style and set of priorities. Thank you to John Burse, Tino Ochoa, and Doug Rasmussen for your support of me, personally, and for keeping the organization grounded in the community while regularly pushing to achieve ambitious goals.
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So, what’s next for Old North?
Rest assured that my departure does not reflect any diminished confidence in the future of Old North or the viability of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. In fact, I have more excitement than ever about Old North’s future. Reasons for hope for Old North’s continued revitalization are too many to list here, but the following are just some of the items on that list:
  • Construction will be starting very soon on the 1300 block of Monroe for new, for-sale energy-efficient houses, which will mark the return of new construction within the North Market Place development area after several years off…
By the way, if you’d like to get one of these new homes before they’re all snapped up, contact Matt Fernandez at 314-241-5031, ext. 101 or at Matt@ONSL.org.
  • a lot of new energy, activity & ideas coming from new neighbors & organizations, such as UrbArts…
  • We are currently in the midst of promising conversations about a redevelopment of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home building (more to come on that later)…
  • Our STL North LLC partner, Ken Kranzberg, is working with us on plans for redevelopment of the one-time pasta factory building at 1225 St. Louis Avenue into affordable artist loft apartments…
  • the soon-to-be-released Sustainable Development Plan for Old North, produced through support from EPA, will provide a good outline for positive, sustainable and community-enriching development…
  • …And, most importantly, Old North continues to attract, retain and engage a strong, resilient, determined, passionate, and growing community of residents and stakeholders who are going to keep working hard to make Old North the vibrant, dynamic, friendly, welcoming, safe, and sustainable neighborhood they know it can be.
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The work of ONSLRG will continue - BUT your help is needed!
No matter how much progress has been achieved, Old North still has plenty of work to do, and the community needs a neighborhood-based organization to facilitate the process and continue pulling residents, key stakeholders, and supporters together. What makes a community sustainable isn’t the building stock - it’s the people.  Real estate development is a key piece of any revitalization strategy for a neighborhood that experienced generations of de-population and disinvestment, but genuine community development needs much more than that.  And that’s why Old North St. Louis Restoration Group remains committed to pursuing a comprehensive approach. Unfortunately, many aspects of that comprehensive approach don’t generate any - or enough -  revenue to cover their costs. So, we rely on the generosity and support of any and all who believe this work is worthwhile.
If you believe the community-driven approach of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group is worth continuing, I encourage you to help ONSLRG sustain and build upon the great achievements that are evident today.
Please show your support for the mission of revitalizing the physical and social dimensions of Old North in a manner that respects the community’s historic, cultural and urban character by making a contribution right now. Just click on the button below to make a secure, online donation.
Other ways of providing financial support include buying as many tickets as you can for the annual Old North House & Community Tour, scheduled for Saturday, May 7 by clicking HERE, and/or becoming a house tour sponsor (or referring a business you know) by clicking HERE.  Or, you could always buy a new house when they’re ready or one of ONSLRG’s rehab-ready houses. (Click HERE for info on the rehab-ready houses.)  If you have any other ideas, give us a call at 314-241-5031 or send an email to info@ONSL.org.
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Thank you again to all who have been with me on this phenomenal adventure over the past 12 years!
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Friday, February 5, 2016

Join Us TONIGHT - Old North First Friday Art Walk

Tonight, Friday, February 5, the stretch of N. 14th Street from 2600 up to 2800 N. 14th Street will be alive with the arts - and visitors who appreciate the arts. We invite you to join us this month’s installment of the Old North Art Walk.

The event is free and open to the public from 7 p.m. until midnight, with live music and visual arts on display in several venues, including Old North St. Louis Restoration Group’s own gallery at 2700 N. 14th Street, spoken word at UrbArts (2600 N. 14th), great food at both Crown Candy Kitchen and La Mancha Coffeehouse, at the intersection of St. Louis Avenue and N. 14th Street.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Celebrate MLK Day at UrbArts’ Youth Poetry Slam

Today you can celebrate the life and contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr., and show your support for the next generation of civil rights and social justice leaders.

This MLK Day, teens from 13 to 19 are invited to VerbQuake’s 2nd Annual King Me Youth Slam. Doors open at 12:30 pm at UrbArts, 2600 N. 14th Street at Crown Square in the heart of Old North. The event starts at 1:00 pm., and is free and open to all. For more information, visit UrbArts.org.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

It’s taken us 200 years to get to this point… & You can help us get off to a good start in 2016

Earlier today we sent our last e-news message of 2015. If you didn’t receive that in your in-box, see below.

2016 is going to be an incredible year for Old North St. Louis as we celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of the Village of North St. Louis. However, we still have 1 day left to celebrate the achievements of 2015 - and 1 day left for your tax-deductible 2015 contribution in support of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group.

THANK YOU very much if you’ve already made a contribution to Old North St. Louis Restoration Group in 2015. Your support has helped us continue the revitalization that Old North St. Louis Restoration Group began in 1981. However, if you still haven’t made a contribution in 2015, you have just one day left to qualify as a deduction on your 2015 taxes - and to help us start off 2016 with the resources needed to make ONSLRG’s 35th anniversary year and Old North’s 200th anniversary year successful.
To make that tax-deductible contribution right now, just click HERE. Your support will help us continue the following revitalization activities (and so much more!) in 2016:

…and so much more, including neighborhood safety initiatives, support for prospective, new, and long-term residents, and many other things that we just don’t have pictures of.  We’ve made great progress over the past 34 years - and we’d love to continue all of that in 2016. To make that happen, though, we need the resources to cover our expenses. We invite you to help us with that - whether through your own financial support or by telling others who can make a donation of any amount.

Your tax-deductible investment in the future of Old North can be made online by clicking HERE or on the image above.

THANK YOU AGAIN to all who’ve contributed to Old North St. Louis Restoration Group in 2015!

One more thing: we invite you to celebrate the new year with us at Old North’s First Friday Art Walk on Friday, New Years Day, from 7 p.m. to Midnight.

If you aren’t receiving our e-news, you can subscribe by clicking HERE.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Celebrate New Years Day at First Friday Art Walk in Old North

On Friday evening, New Years Day, several galleries and arts venues along the 2600-2700 blocks of N. 14th Street in Old North will be open for visitors from 7 p.m. to midnight. Among the participating galleries will be UrbArts (2600 N. 14th), The Gallery 14 (2603), and our own Old North St. Louis Restoration Group Gallery (2700 N. 14th), along with several others.

Please join us to celebrate the first day of the new year with art, music, fashion, culture, and community.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

THIS Saturday, 12/12: 5th Annual Holidays in Old North

Just in time for all of your holiday shopping needs, the Holidays in Old North craft market and festival returns for its fifth year this Saturday, December 12. Please join us - and bring the whole family. We’d also greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word. Tell your neighbors and share your plans to attend with all of your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media channel.

And, once again, we’re thrilled to offer free photos with Santa.

For more details on the vendors and information about the music and other activities (including children’s crafts with Magic House) at this year’s Holidays in Old North, please take a look at the event page on Facebook by clicking HERE.

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Thank you to all of our volunteers from near and far who helped us decorate for Saturday. On Tuesday evening, immediately following our usual 2nd Tuesday of the month Old North neighborhood meeting, several neighbors stuck around to decorate the ONSLRG Gallery and other interior spaces up and down the 2700 block of North 14th Street.  Then, on Wednesday afternoon, we received help from about 25 individuals who work at U.S. embassies all over the world, brought to us by the U.S. State Department and the World Affairs Council of St. Louis. Special thanks to Jen Russell and Friendship Village for donating much of the decorations!

Multiple photos from the team of volunteers on both Tuesday and Wednesday can be found by clicking HERE or on the collage below.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday!

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Thank You to All Who Helped Old North Achieve Distinction as the “Best Place to Live” in St. Louis

Happy Thanksgiving to all! In honor of this season of gratitude, all of us at Old North St. Louis Restoration Group (ONSLRG) thank everyone who has been a part of making Old North St. Louis the “Best Place to Live” in St. Louis.

And thank you again to the Riverfront Times for putting the spotlight on the great things going on in Old North and for selecting Old North as the 2015 “Best Place to Live” neighborhood in the annual “Best of St. Louis” issue. While the RFT’s few lines of explanation (as shown in the clip above from the print copy) provided a good start, we know there is so much more to the Old North story.  So, for those who have asked what it takes to become a “Best Place to Live” neighborhood, we offer the following, more detailed, mostly objective, rest-of-the-story case for why Old North really is such a great place to live.

Old North is a neighborhood with character and soul - a place with a long & fascinating history… a place with visible progress achieved through a revitalization process guided by an organization that is genuinely of, by, and for the people of the community.
And for any who might question the RFT’s wisdom with this year’s selection - and with all due respect to the many other wonderful neighborhoods throughout the city, it’s worth noting that the RFT hasn’t been the only source to  consider the revitalization of Old North to be worthy of recognition. That list of outside parties who’ve had upbeat assessments of Old North in recent years includes:
  • Focus St. Louis, who picked Old North for one of their “What’s Right with the Region” Awards; and
  • Kaid Benfield, then-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Smart Growth & Sustainable Communities Program, who referred to Old North as “one of the country’s best revitalization stories…”
So, what’s going on in Old North that captured the attention and earned the respect of these outside observers?  The short answer is that it isn’t just one thing. Old North has been reviving and transforming itself through a comprehensive set of initiatives over several years.
A successful and vibrant community will be a place with a mix of positive features and attributes, not simply a place with good housing stock or nice parks, for instance. The more diverse and the stronger the mix of distinctive characteristics, the more likely it is that the community will enjoy a positive trajectory and be able to sustain itself over time. The most important element, however, is a population of community members who establish the vision for what they want their community to be - and are actively involved in the implementation of the various initiatives, as well as the ongoing work of maintaining and building on the progress.
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The PEOPLE
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It’s a given that just about every neighborhood will claim that it’s the people who live & work there that make it such a wonderful place. In the absence of specifics, though, that claim can sound rather superficial. With that in mind, let’s consider the “tight-knit bunch” of people who are part of the warm and welcoming community in Old North.
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Long-time Neighbors =====
Above Left: Tom Bratkowski with a picnic table & bench he built for the 13th Street Community Garden; Above Right: Gloria Bratkowski with Old North’s Girl Scout Troop. The Bratkowski Family has been in Old North for 4 generations - and they continue to serve in a variety of ways.
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As a community with a long and rich history, one of the compelling features of Old North is that history isn’t confined to the history books. Old North is home to people who’ve been a part of the community long enough to be able tell the back-stories of various aspects of the neighborhood’s ups and downs over several generations. Along with residents who moved into the neighborhood 20, 30, or 40 years ago, Old North is also home to residents whose families have been in the neighborhood for several generations before them.  And Old North is such a vibrant place because long-term residents are still actively involved in a lot of community-building efforts, from working in community gardens to serving on committees or on the ONSLRG Board.
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…And a Lot of Newcomers, Too!
Old North has a growing population, with new residents welcomed to the community & invited to participate in the ongoing work of community-building =======
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Newcomers tell us that there are many reasons they choose to move into Old North, but almost everybody reports that they love the powerful and genuine sense of community. Longtime residents welcome in their new neighbors and readily invite them to attend community events and/or to participate in the shared responsibility of community-building. Damon Moore and his wife, Kausta, (in the left photo above) had just moved into the neighborhood when the Riverfront Times stumbled across him doing work in his new front yard. Asked why he and his wife moved into the neighborhood, Damon responded: “They’re constantly building this neighborhood up, and we want to be a part of it.” And Kausta has since followed up by joining the ONSLRG Real Estate Committee.
Meanwhile the Lunsford family (in the right photo above) started showing up for community events in Old North long before they moved into the neighborhood from south city to tackle a rehab. The whole family has been regulars at Old North’s farmers’ market and can be counted on to bring a burst of positive energy to any neighborhood activity.  Life in Old North as become such a central part of the Lunsford family’s everyday activities that “Old North” emerged as the most prominent set of words used in Leah’s Facebook posts (as shown below)…
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It’s also important to note that population growth didn’t just happen by itself.  Significant effort went into planning for and developing new housing, including finding and partnering with outside parties, such as Rise Community Development, who had resources and capacity to make larger projects happen. The process also involved considerable time and effort on the part of ONSLRG staff to recruit and assist individuals and families who were open to the possibility of moving into Old North. These ongoing efforts involve everything from hosting the annual Old North House & Community Tour every spring to preparing and distributing an Available Properties List every month and responding to inquiries from visitors who drop in at the ONSLRG office wanting to know more about the neighborhood.
And, as shown in the image above, the development of new housing options continues. Starting at approximately $150,000, new, energy-efficient homes will be available in early 2016.  (Interested buyers should contact Matt Fernandez at 314-241-5031, ext. 101 or by email at Matt@ONSL.org.)
Because a growing population by itself isn’t enough to make a community vibrant and sustainable, ONSLRG regularly hosts events and activities to allow neighbors to get to know each other.  Since strong and supportive relationships don’t happen automatically or through one time events, it takes a variety of occasions throughout the year, such as ONSLRG’s Annual Meeting and Pot-Luck Supper in February, a trivia night in March, the House & Community Tour in May, 20 weeks in a row of the North City Farmers’ Market in the middle of 14th Street from June through October, a big National Night Out celebration in the 13th Street Community Garden (as shown below)…
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…periodic happy hours, monthly neighborhood meetings, and the Holidays in Old North Festival, in addition to several other special events, such as hosting this year’s Shakespeare in the Streets on at the intersection of Montgomery and N. 14th Street.
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BUSINESSES & INSTITUTIONS
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Landmark, Legendary Businesses
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Crown Candy*
No story of Old North would be complete without acknowledging the importance of Crown Candy Kitchen as a neighborhood landmark that has drawn customers and visitors to the neighborhood for more than 100 years now.  For many St. Louisans, Crown Candy was their first introduction to Old North - and for many years, the only reason they would have ever set foot in the neighborhood.  Now, Crown’s customers have a lot more to take in and can walk down the street to marvel at the beauty of Crown Square and the view of the Arch and the Downtown skyline framed by the collection of architecturally significant, historically rehabbed buildings along both sides of N. 14th Street.
But there’s more to the Old North business community than Crown Candy, including other legendary businesses, such as another family-owned, much-older business, Marx Hardware (which also made this year’s RFT “Best of” list), and HeadHunters, a barber shop that stuck around the 14th Street Mall for many, many years after all of the other businesses abandoned the dead pedestrian mall and survived long enough to enjoy the revitalization at Crown Square.
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Newer, Locally-Owned Businesses
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The past few years have brought several new businesses to the heart of Old North, especially at Crown Square, such as:
- Blackmun Footcare, owned and operated by Old North resident, Dr. Annessa Blackmun (shown above)* - which also was selected by St. Louis Development Corporation as the 5th Ward Business of the Year this year;
- Kennedy’s Pet Shop;
- La Mancha Coffeehouse* (a previous SLDC Business of the Year honoree);
- Firecracker Press;
- The Racq Salon;
- Angel’s Touch Home Healthcare;
- The Gallery Clothing Boutique;
- Le Fit;
and others beyond the Crown Square portion of 14th Street, such as Better Life and Perpetua;
… and so many more.
* owned & run by Old North residents
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Recent Arrival Nonprofits & Service Providers…
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Old North residents are lucky to have many other organizations present within and serving the Old North community, including:
- UrbArts, a home for spoken word arts and poetry slams (with founder / executive director, MK Stallings in the photo above);
- Central Print;
- Building Futures;
- Zuka Arts Guild;
- Magdalene House;
- Peace Weaving Wholeness.
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LONG-TIME ORGANIZATIONS & INSTITUTIONS
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Old North is also home to several other groups that have been around for quite a while, such as:
- Grace Hill Settlement House (for over a Century);
- The Haven of Grace;
- C.J.’s Place (Places for People);
- Stepping Into the Light;
- Sunshine Ministries;
… and, of course, Old North’s own vehicle for neighborhood-driven and respectful community development, ONSLRG, which will be celebrating 35 years in 2016.
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A ROBUST ARTS SCENE
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The highest profile arts event in the past year was Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’s production of their annual Shakespeare in the Streets in Old North, which featured area residents John Bratkowski, Aniyah Wilson, and Robert Green, along with Old North’s very own police officer, Richard Schicker of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s 4th District.
But there is so much more art happening within the boundaries of Old North.
Recent hightlights have included a new mural by William Burton and Robert Ketchins; several exhibits in the Old North Gallery; live music within the ONSLRG Gallery, on the stage at the Crown Square corner plaza, in the street…
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…poetry slams at UrbArts, printmaking at Central Print, children’s programs at NorthSide Workshop, Friday afternoon concerts at Zuka Arts, improv, drum lessons for the neighborhood Girl Scout troop, daily steel drum music by Jamaica Ray in front of Crown Candy, and on and on.
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RECREATION & LEISURE
….residents walking together, outside groups bringing bike tours through Old North, soccer games in Jackson Park…
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HISTORIC CHARACTER & ARCHITECTURAL PRESERVATION
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As a community that dates back to its founding in 1816 as an independent municipality (the Village of North St. Louis) separate from St. Louis, Old North is home to a great mix of structures and historic sites that contribute to the neighborhood’s distinct sense of place.  Residents of Old North embrace that history and character and go to great lengths to preserve what the physical elements that shape the character and beauty of the neighborhood.  Part of that history is currently on display at the Missouri History Museum, with their A Walk in 1875 exhibit (shown above), and much more of that can on a walk through Old North today. Thanks to the efforts of ONSLRG and our partners, and many individual homeowners, dozens of historic buildings have been rescued from the brink of collapse.  We thank all who have helped make this aspect of Old North’s character possible - and we thank Landmarks Association of St. Louis for helping to acknowledge the great contributions of so many in Old North through their annual “Most Enhanced” Historic Preservation Awards, with more awards going to more buildings in Old North than any other neighborhood - as a percentage of total buildings within the neighborhood…
Above: Owners of Old North properties that have been (or will one day be) recognized by Landmarks Association of St. Louis for the quality of their historic preservation.  From left to right: Matt Fernandez future award winner; Dave Eisenbraun, past winner; James & Luz Maria Cox, 2015 & previous year winners; and Susan Tschetter, past winner.
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HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
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Old North is a place that embraces healthy lifestyles in a variety of ways, most visibly through the weekly appearance of North City Farmers’ Market along the 2700 block of N. 14th Street from June through mid- October over the past 9 years.
The community-wide celebration of healthy lifestyles is also evident through the neighborhood’s 9 community gardens…
… and the community’s Walking Club.
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Residents out and about and watching out for each other has also made it possible for Old North to experience a 47% decline in crime from 2010 - 2014, further reinforced by coordinated efforts, including Old North’s Neighborhood Ownership Model and regular collaboration with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s 4th District (especially Officers Lori Wozniak and Richard Schicker)…
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PARTNERSHIPS
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So much of what has been mentioned above can be attributed to a simple formula of community-driven initiatives matched with support from outside partners.  While the full list of partners and supporters would be too long for this space, some of them do need to be acknowledged here, such as several who’ve provided funding support for some of our programs recently: the City of St. Louis Community Development Administration, Bank of America, Regional Arts Commission, Trio Foundation; some who’ve provided funding and program support, such as Gateway Greening, Ken Kranzberg and STL North LLC; some who’ve worked with us on various aspects of our mission, including our Crown Square development partner, Rise Community Development, Community Builders Network (which is assisting with ONSLRG’s collaborations with other nearby CDCs, Community Renewal and Development and Northside Community Housing)… and partners who’ve made it possible for our staff to take on so much more work than we could otherwise afford to do by providing us with more people power in the office - Mission St. Louis and AmeriCorps VISTA for making it possible for Jessica Payne and Brendan Ziebarth to work with us, and AARP for making it possible for Charlotte Harris to keep an eye on our front desk;
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and several hundred residents and outside friends of the community.

This litany of supporters, investors, and friends could continue for quite a while. So, we invite you to add the names of others who deserve thanks and acknowledgments.  Just scroll down to find the Comment box below and share your thoughts!

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In light of all of the above, we THANK all who made this possible. If you’re thankful that St. Louis has a dynamic and growing community capable of showing that our city does, indeed, have vibrant, attractive and sustainable neighborhoods, we invite you to help us continue this work.  If you believe it’s important for the city to have healthy and thriving neighborhoods on the north side, as well as on the south side, if you believe it’s vital to our region’s future to have neighborhoods that seek to engage all of their residents in the work of community building and that continue to reach out to various agencies and organizations to join the residents in making the community a better place for all, then we need your support.  Please make a new or continuing contribution today by clicking on the image below.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Old North is “Best Place to Live” in Riverfront Times 2015 “Best of St. Louis” Issue

This really isn’t news to those of us who know - and, therefore, love - Old North St. Louis. However, we are thrilled to share the news that yet another outside, neutral party has joined us in the assessment that Old North is the Best Place to Live in St. Louis. The annual Riverfront Times “Best of St. Louis” issue just hit the streets today, and right there on page 28 is the big news that Old North is this year’s selection for Best Place to Live. Click HERE to read the explanation from the good folks at the RFT in their online version.

As the brief article notes, Old North is “flourishing” with much to celebrate, including the redevelopment of Crown Square (where the commercial space is approaching full occupancy, by the way), a significant reduction in an already low amount of crime, a really cool farmers’ market, a “tight-knit bunch” of residents, and the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Village of North St. Louis just a few months away.

Although that little blurb says a lot, we know the full story deserves much more space than the RFT had available in their very jam-packed Best of issue.  So, stay tuned for a follow up from us on some of the reasons we agree with their conclusion. In the meantime, all who call Old North home or have their business here can share in the credit and take a bow for this well-deserved acknowledgment.  As the Shakespeare in the Streets production of The World Begun just last week conveyed, Old North is a magical place with some one-of-a-kind characters who are passionate about their community.

If you don’t believe us, we invite you to come on by to see for yourself. And if you’d like to get in on the action and share the excitement, we’ve got an endless supply of opportunities. To learn more, stop by the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group office at 2700 N. 14th Street (1 block south of Crown Candy), visit us at our info booth every Saturday at North City Farmers’ Market, give us a call at 314-241-5031, or send us an email at info@ONSL.org.  And, if you’re interested in helping us make more good things happen in Old North, feel free to make a secure, tax-deductible contribution online by clicking HERE or on the arrow or button below.

Thanks again to J. David Levy for allowing us to use his photos from Shakespeare in the Streets.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Critics Have Spoken: Shakespeare in the Streets Old North “the Best Ever”

It’s not always easy to get consensus in a diverse community, but there seems to be almost universal agreement that Shakespeare in the Streets Old North was a tremendous success. The reviews from community residents and professional critics have been overwhelmingly positive. The production by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis earned praise for the intelligence, sensitivity, and depth of the script; for the masterful direction of a cast that included a mix of professional and amateur actors;for the energy and talent of the acting; and everything else, from the set design that took full advantage of the architectural beauty and character of the street to the pre-show music by Renaissance Rhythm & Blues.

Post-Dispatch theater critic Judith Newmark referred to the production of “The World Begun,” Nancy Bell’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” as “a hilarious romp through the Old North neighborhood…— and the best Shakespeare in the Streets show yet.” Read the full review on STLToday.com by clicking HERE.

Gerry Kowarsky of HEC-TV’s “Two on the Aisle” theater review program gave his “heartiest” recommendation and asked, “How can the script by Nancy Bell be so smart, so honest, so moving, and so thoroughly enjoyable all at the same time?

Neighborhood residents and other community members were thrilled to have the essence of their community captured and conveyed in such a compelling performance. The spirit and voice of the community came through so well due to the great care taken and respect shown by the entire Shakespeare Festival St. Louis team, from Executive Director Rick Dildine to all of the staff and crew, including community engagement & education director Jennifer Wintzer, playwright Nancy Bell, director Jacqueline Thompson, production manager Tom Martin, designer Mark Wilson, streets project coordinator Kristin Rion, and so many more who deserve to be named.

The full cast included the following:

MIKE Patrick Blindauer
MALVOLIO John Bratkowski*
VIOLA Marlene René Coveyou
SEBASIAN Michael Cassidy Flynn
DUKE ORSINO Lawd Gabriel
ROBERT Robert Green
SIR ANDREW AGUECHEEK Carl Overly, Jr.
ANTONIA Tarecka “Queenie” Smith and Aniyah Wilson
OLIVIA Erin Renée Roberts
SIR TOBY BELCH Richard Schicker
MARIA Lisa Tejero*
FESTE Christoffer Ware

Congratulations to all involved!

And here’s what Shakespeare Festival St. Louis thought of the production:

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Shakespeare in the Streets Coming to Old North September 17-19

Mark your calendars & start spreading the news: Shakespeare in the Streets will take place in the heart of Old North, at the intersection of N. 14th & Montgomery Thursday, Sept. 17-Saturday, Sept. 19.
Details about the performances, including cast information, can be found in the official announcement from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis by clicking HERE, and on the website for the event by clicking HERE (where you can learn a lot more about some of the familiar Old North faces you’ll see on stage, food options, and parking info).
It’s not too soon to start inviting all of your friends, work colleagues, and family to join you in Old North for the evening, including dinner before the show at one of Old North’s fine eating establishments.
Watch for more details here between now and Sept. 17 - or search the #WelcometoOldNorth hashtag on Facebook and Instagram to meet some of the residents and business owners who have contributed to this project, from sharing their stories to welcoming the Shakespeare in the Streets team into their storefronts.

WHAT'S NEW IN OLD NORTH

Welcome to the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group's blog. What's New in Old North chronicles the dramatic transformation under way in the neighborhood of Old North St. Louis. As a neighborhood just north of Downtown St. Louis, Old North is becoming a dynamic urban village of new and historic homes, a landmark eating establishment, beautiful community gardens, and a diverse, friendly, and engaged community.

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