Botanical Heights

The transformation and redevelopment of McRee Town rebranded as the Botanical Heights neighborhood has been spearheaded by the Garden District Commission (GDC), an independent, not-for-profit organization whose board members are residents of the neighborhoods adjacent to the Missouri Botanical Garden or represent neighborhood businesses and institutions. The Garden served as the catalyst, accelerating the renewal of Botanical Heights, by bringing together these stakeholders to stimulate revitalization.  The Garden District Commission continues today to promote community-based planning efforts and oversee the redevelopment of Botanical Heights.  The Garden’s involvement in community redevelopment is guided by its focus on improving the adjacent neighborhoods and making them safe and attractive for Garden visitors and staff.

The Missouri Botanical Garden has invested $3 million of its own funds from a prior capital campaign and raised more that $15 million which have been used primarily to purchase approximately 300 properties, demolish dilapidated structures, provide relocation services to displaced residents and to fund certain public improvement such as sidewalk replacement and repaving of alleys.  While there is still much to be done, much as been accomplished when considering the steep fall in home prices in 2008 and the difficult residential market the past couple of years.

The Botanical Heights area was once known for illegal drug activity, high crime rate, and large proportion of multi-family buildings owned by absentee landlords.  McRee Town was built in the early 1900s and thrived until the late 1960s when Interstate 44 came through the area, splitting it from Shaw to the south.  This resulted in McRee Town becoming a haven for gang violence, arson and despair.  It was the focus of numerous failed redevelopment attempts.  By 2000, approximately 56% of remaining structures were vacant or in poor condition.

The Botanical Heights redevelopment project encompasses a total of 14 square blocks which is about 90 acres and is bounded by Folsom Avenue on the north, Lafayette Avenue on the south, 39th Street on the east, and Vandeventer Avenue on the west.  

In 2000 a redevelopment plan for the area was adopted by the City of St. Louis.  A wholly-owned affiliate of the GDC, McRee Town Redevelopment Corporation (MTRC) is the designated developer of the area under a contract with the city.  Under the redevelopment plan, MTRC acquired and cleared six square blocks at a cost of nearly $15 million.  Beginning in 2004, these six square blocks were rebuilt by McBride & Sons with 143 new, market-rate single family homes with sale prices ranging from $155,000 to $400,000.  All of the homes were sold by the end of 2007 leaving the remaining eight blocks to be redeveloped.

Redevelopment came to a halt when the recession hit in 2008.  The GDC took advantage of this time to regroup and re-position itself.  For example, the GDC’s effort to preserve historic district status for the Botanical Heights neighborhood succeeded when in June 2009, the new Liggett & Myers Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The new district ensures that state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits will be available to assist the development of existing buildings.

Now that the residential market is beginning to stabilize, there is renewed enthusiasm for the project.  The GDC designated the 4200 block of McRee Avenue as the next focus area and redevelopment is in full swing under the direction of UIC+CDO architectural, property development, general contracting and urban design firm.  This developer was recognized by the City of St. Louis in 2012 as Developer of the Year for its work in Botanical Heights and works in tandem with the Garden District Commission.

Phase two is more all encompassing including features not included in the first phase of redevelopment.  The new homes in the 4200 block of McRee, for example are a mix of new and rehabilitated homes which will help to retain the historical character of the neighborhood.  All of the 28 new and rehabilitated houses will be LEED (green) certified, appealing to home buyers seeking low operating costs, and more energy efficiency in a new home.  Green technology will include a geothermal system that uses coils buried in alleys to cool and heat homes and “rain gardens” in landscaping to help with storm water removal.  Homes will range from $168,000 to $278,000.

Community gardens located on Folsom Avenue are integrated into the revitalization plan and a playground area on the 4100 block of Blaine was completed in September 2012.  Solid progress and positive energy plus good media coverage of the development’s success has contributed to the feeling of optimism.  The highly regarded City Garden Montessori, a charter school, relocated to Botanical Heights on Tower Grove Avenue in August 2012.  The school serves as an important anchor in the neighborhood and provides an excellent educational setting for 300 students in K-8.  Many families moving into the area are sending their children to City Garden.

A rejuvenated Botanical Heights will eventually include more than 400 residential units, with more than 200 new single-family homes, up to 60 rehabilitated homes for rental or ownership many of which are LEED (green) certified, a $10.8 million project to renovate 76 apartment units, a highly-respected charter school, community gardens, a neighborhood playground, new and rehabilitated offices, shops, restaurants and a French pastry shop, and manufacturing and technology-based businesses.

More than $18 million has been raised to date, including $3 million from the Missouri Botanical Garden, $3.8 million from the Danforth Foundation, $3 million from the City of St. Louis in the form of a city Community Development Block Grant Fund from the federal government, $5.85 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and $2.5 million from private contributions.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) has authorized the Garden District Commission (GDC) to offer $105,350 in Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) 50% state tax credits.  These tax credits are available to qualified businesses and individuals with certain types of income who make contributions to the GDC to support the revitalization of the Botanical Heights neighborhood. 

Upon completion, the redevelopment in Botanical Heights will have generated more than $110 million of new investment in new homes, public and commercial spaces and the new charter school.

The redevelopment of Botanical Heights is one of the most ambitious neighborhood redevelopment projects undertaken in the City of St. Louis and the revitalization of the area models some of the best practices in urban redevelopment incorporating many sustainable features.  This pedestrian and bike friendly neighborhood is in close proximity to Washington University Medical Center and campus, Barnes Jewish Hospital, CORTEX, St. Louis University Medical Center and campus, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

For more information, contact the Public Relations Department at (314) 577‑0254 or (314) 577‑5141 or check the Garden’s Web site at www.mobot.org. For 24-hour recorded visitor information, call (314) 577‑5100 or 1-800-642‑8842 toll free.

The Missouri Botanical Garden’s mission is “to discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment, in order to preserve and enrich life.” Today, 154 years after opening, the Missouri Botanical Garden is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science and conservation, education and horticultural display.