ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – As more people relocate to the Washington Avenue loft district in downtown St. Louis, an effort is underway to reclaim a public space best known as a hangout for vagrants and criminals.
Lucas Park is located immediately north of the newly-renovated Central Library.
“There were a lot of drug dealers hanging out in there,” Kelly Kelsey explained to KMOX News. “All. Day. Long.”
That’s what prompted Kelsey to co-found the group “Friends of Lucas Park”, which launched their clean-up campaign last year.
Even as they started the rehabilitation process, according to Kelsey, some of those who had been using Lucas Park as a home or office kept showing up.
“I couldn’t believe the number of people that would come in during our first couple of clean-ups,” Kelsey said. “We had a couple of guys show up with laptops wondering when they could get in there because they had (drug) deals to make.”
It turns out that hundreds of volunteers were just waiting to be asked to help rehabilitate the park, and in barn-raising style they built a new playground in a single day.
“It was amazing!,” according to Kelsey. “Actually the day we had our first play date at the playground there were so many parents I’d never seen before. They might be your neighbor and you just never saw them before because there was no place to go with kids.”
“Friends of Lucas Park” has raised some $80,000 for renovations so far, and qualified for a grant to construct the playground.
Local businesses are helping out, as well.
Pi restaurant donated 25% of proceeds from sales made over a two-hour period Tuesday night, and others are planning to do the same thing in the near future.
Kelsey says the idea is to make Lucas Park into a place where downtown families can safely hang out and play, and could one day host events like community concerts and craft shows.