In the last few years, you may have heard the phrase "Promise Zone" when listening to the local news or reading about St. Louis politics. You may not have even heard it at all. But this little phrase is making a big impact in our city. It could help shape our development for decades to come. So what is the St. Louis Promise Zone? And how is it changing our city today?
In 2013, the Federal Promise Zone Initiative was put into place by the Obama Administration. Since then, 22 high poverty urban, rural and tribal “Promise Zones” across the country have received 10 year long designations to foster healthy and sustainable community development. These geographic areas were selected through a national competition. Each area had to demonstrate a “consensus vision for their community and its residents, the capacity to carry it out, and a shared commitment to specific, measurable results.” In 2015, St. Louis succeeded in obtaining this designation for much of North City and North County.
Learn about the neighborhoods and participating organization by taking the Promise Zone tour here.
- Population: 199,792
- Includes 28 Municipalities
- Encompasses 7 School Districts
- Poverty Rate: 35.5%
- Median Income: $26,546
- Unemployment Rate: 21%
Each Promise Zone designation sets up partnerships between the Federal Government and local leaders to address a specific set of community revitalization challenges. In St. Louis, the lead organization is the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership (STLPartnership). They work to coordinate partners, engage the community and ensure accountability. With local and federal partners, STLPartnership has pinpointed 6 goals for the project.
- INCREASE ECONOMIC ACTIVITY: "Strengthen high-potential business clusters by expanding the pipeline to jobs in these sectors. Support and develop job hubs and assemble land for businesses".
- REDUCE SERIOUS AND VIOLENT CRIME: "Achieve consistent annual reduction in rate of violent crime across the Promise Zone through great collaboration among police departments".
- IMPROVE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES: "Ensure students in the Promise Zone are college and career ready by improving schools. Schools will return to accredited status and provide wrap-around services to support children from birth to post-graduation.
- CREATE SUSTAINABLE, MIXED INCOME COMMUNITIES: "Design and implement a collaborative strategy for largescale, mixed-income, mixed-use development that will foster transformative, sustainable communities."
- IMPROVE HEALTH AND WELLNESS: "Address systemic needs and individual interventions to reduce disparities in the life-expectancies of Promise Zone residents."
- INCREASE WORKFORCE READINESS: "Stimulate the economic self-sufficiency of individuals living in low-to-moderate income areas by connecting unemployed and under-employed resident with job readiness, training and placement opportunities."
To implement these goals, the Promise Zone has been provided with 5 AmeriCorps VISTA members, federal staff to help designees connect with resources, preference for certain competitive grants and technical assistance from participating federal agencies.
A key benefit of this designation is that the Promise Zone provides preference for many competitive grants and programs from 13 federal agencies. An applicant with goals in line with Promise Zone goals can apply to receive a “Certification of Consistency” and work with Promise Zone partners to improve their projects while increasing their chances of receiving funding (you can learn more here). In the last three years, over 60 million dollars have been awarded through grants.
For example, in 2016 the Near North Side (an area encompassing parts of Near North Riverfront, Downtown St. Louis, Old North, Columbus Square, St. Louis Place and Carr Square) received almost $30 million through the highly competitive Choice Neighborhoods Implementation grant. Through this grant, a plan dedicated to transformation, revitalization and empowerment has been created. This plan includes 700 affordable and mixed income housing units, a community center, increased focus on homeownership, micro-lending opportunities and other community development initiatives created through local partnerships and neighborhood input. Without the Promise Zone designation, the City of St. Louis may not have received this important grant.
OTHER IMPORTANT GRANTS AWARDED:
In order to better coordinate efforts across partner organizations, STL Partnership created six committees made up of implementation partners and other organizations to insure long term success of the project’s goals. M:STL is proud to be a member of the Workforce Readiness Committee. Our move last fall places us inside the Promise Zone. We were thankful to be brought alongside other organizations who are working in the Promise Zone and focused on job readiness goals. This committee is dedicated to improving access to skill-training, employment planning, career development and placement, education, and transportation services. Through the work of this committee we are able to share experiences, strategize together to improve and connect programs and gain funding opportunities.
ST. LOUIS PROMISE ZONE IMPLEMENTATION PARTNERS:
- City of St. Louis
- St. Louis County
- St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC)
- St. Louis City Planning & Urban Development
- St. Louis County Office of Community Development
- U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) - St. Louis Office
You may not live in the St. Louis Promise Zone, but that does not mean you won’t be impacted by it. With the influence of more resources, there are growing opportunities for investment in local business, job training and new developments. For example, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is moving to the Promise Zone (more info here). A contributing factor to their decision to move to North City was the Promise Zone designation. With it will come the redevelopment of the Pruitt-Igoe site and surrounding areas. The influx of its employees will create a need for new businesses and new investments.
Through increased grants, active relationships with the Federal Government and better relationships between local organizations, the Promise Zone puts our city in the position for change. When one part of our community succeeds, the whole community succeeds. The influence of more resources can bring jobs, businesses and development for its residents and the surrounding area. A healthy North St. Louis is not only what Promise Zone residents deserve, it is what the whole St. Louis region would benefit from. Now it's up to us to educate ourselves, get involved and use this opportunity to its full potential.