Construction is underway in North St. Louis on the new $1.7 billion headquarters for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. As the steel structure rises, so do the hopes of visionaries set on developing commercial and residential spaces within several miles of the facility.
This transformational anchor project has the potential to make numerous nearby projects viable, including a $25 million geospatial and information technology training campus; the Project Connect initiative to develop six surrounding neighborhoods; Ponce Health Science University Medical School campus; and the Northside Regeneration initiative which aims to transform a two-square-mile section into three million square feet of offices, two million square feet of retail, one million square feet of tech space and 3,000 residential units.
Just five miles down the interstate, AMJ Investment Group’s 30-year-old founder, Miki Jones, is spearheading an $81 million project to revitalize 10 square blocks of O’Fallon Park, once one of the city’s crown jewel neighborhoods. The ambitious project will preserve the historical significance of the area and create a self-sustained community where people can work, live, shop and get essential services close to home.
AMJ Investment Group is developing The City District in partnership with Kwame Building Group, the City of St. Louis and Alderman John Collins-Muhammad.
Designed by JEMA, the project is set to break ground this spring. A total of 66 parcels will be demolished, more than half of which are currently vacant. The land will be reallocated for new construction retail, homes and green spaces. A new City Plaza will feature a business incubator as well as shopping and basic services that residents now have to travel downtown or to Chesterfield to access.
Phase Two will include renovating 26 existing homes, many of which are St. Louis’ largest residences rivaling the stylings found in the Central West End and surrounding Tower Grove Park and Forest Park. Also, $24 million is allocated to constructing new single and multi-family homes.
Jones shared her perspective with MWM STL on the new flux of interest in developing North St. Louis, why it is significant and what is needed for the potential to be realized.
RB (Rachel Brown, MWM): What is the significance of the NGA locating its new headquarters in North St. Louis?
MJ (Miki Jones): There was interest in developing this area years ago, but it wasn’t sustainable. The first time I talked to the alderman was about five years ago. After NGA was announced, I circled back and was able to show that this is a viable project now that the NGA development is going to support my vision. NGA will bring workers and more residents to the area that businesses can serve. The project also will help the value of people’s properties go up. All this makes it more attractive for developers to build amenities that the community very much needs.
RB: What is your vision for The City District?
MJ: I envision a development that serves the local community specifically. There are so many amenities that the residents want and that they want to support. They want to spend their money in the community. With this development, they can live, work and spend in their community.
We eventually want to revitalize the entire community and not just the 10 square blocks that we have planned. There are a lot of vacant homes and vacant lots. Taking down those vacant homes is important because the majority of crime is in areas that have a lot of vacant spaces.
RB: I understand that one of the first parts of your development to be built will be a business incubator space. What is your vision for this aspect of the project?
MJ: We want to help businesses grow. Someone might start with a small office or co-working desk and then transition to a larger office and have access to meeting spaces. Eventually, we can help them have their own storefront in the area through different resource programs. We are working with a couple of different organizations in Saint Louis to fill up these incubator spaces.
RB: Have any of your plans been revised or strengthened because of the pandemic?
MJ: We now plan WiFi throughout the community because then everybody can do more from their home. Also, right now people have to go as far as the Brentwood Walmart to shop. We want to make it easier for people to move around their community without cars or drive around the corner instead of 15 or 20 minutes. We plan to develop a range of amenities and commercial spaces so that people can shop and dine and get medical treatment close to home.
By putting more amenities in the community, they can go to a store that’s local without so many people. Plus, they won’t have to drive as far with gas prices going up.
RB: I know there are similar developments planned for the neighborhoods adjacent to your development. How do you anticipate these revitalized neighborhoods will benefit each other?
MJ: One of the things that the neighborhoods already do, which I think is great, is work together. They will gather to clean up the neighborhood and they all work together to try to combat crime and support businesses coming into the area. They all know about the developments and support them. Having this community aspect is a benefit to businesses. The community comes together to support business, and I guarantee they will keep your business here.
RB: What are the challenges and benefits of a revitalization project compared to the construction of a completely new development?
MJ: Developing an empty piece of land is simpler because you don’t need anyone’s input. If the numbers make sense, you just build it. With revitalization, we have to get the community’s feedback or they might not support it.
A revitalization project is special though because it builds on the history that’s already there. A lot of the older residents tell me how the street used to be full of residents and block parties and businesses. They’re still living there and really upset about what it’s turned into. They’ve been supportive of a developer coming in and working with them to build it back to where it needs to be.
I get what they do and do not want to see there and try to include them in the updates I can give instead of being a developer that just comes in and builds wherever they want. I ask for their input with whatever we want to do.
RB: What is needed for these North St. Louis developments to be successful?
MJ: The City of St. Louis’ full political support, financially and politically. We need the full support at every layer of politics and the funds and tax credits that are able to be allotted to development.
RB: What will it mean to have numerous successful developments throughout North St. Louis?
MJ: Hopefully more integration across Saint Louis. It’s known that people say Saint Louis is pretty segregated. We hope for more equality of resources and services across Saint Louis, so it’s not all centered in Chesterfield. We want attractions to be spread out and more amenities near each neighborhood so everybody doesn’t have to travel so far to get to whatever they need and want.
Prior to forming AMJ Investment Group, Miki Jones was a project manager and real estate investor in St. Louis. She received her master’s degree in Business Administration from Webster University, a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri as well as Project Management Professional certification. Jones and her team assist clients with their investing desires and spearhead major real estate deals by collaborating with real estate investors, business owners, homeowners and future homeowners. For more information about The City District, visit www.thecitydistrictstl.com.