Brett Blume

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The effort to transform a downtown green space from a homeless hangout to a safe haven for kids continues.

You’ll recall earlier this year KMOX News told you about the ongoing work to reclaim Lucas Park just north of the Central Library branch from drunken vagrants and drug dealers.

Kelly Kelsey is the driving force behind “Friends of Lucas Park”, which has been successfully landing national playground grants and organizing local fund-raisers to strip away years of neglect and replace it with playground equipment for the growing number of children whose families are moving into the Washington Avenue loft district.

Cheerfully-colored slides and other playthings are already up…this coming weekend volunteers will gather to continue landscaping efforts.

Up next, Kelsey says — exercise equipment.

“Monkey bars, balance beams, a bench for abs and dips,” she recites. “And a climbing wall, which I think is going to be a lot of fun.”

PHOTO GALLERY >>> See photos of Lucas Park

It will take another year or so for the park to match organizers’ original vision.

All of this is happening amidst a growing call for city leaders to force the closure of the Reverend Larry Rice’s New Life Evangelistic Center, a homeless shelter right next door to Lucas Park.

Kelsey agrees the space now occupied by New Life would better serve the neighborhood as the home for a new office or loft, perhaps even a charter school.

Regardless, she says, it’s time for Rice to pack up and leave.

“I’ve learned a lot since being involved with Lucas Park what goes on inside (New Life),” Kelsey tells KMOX News. “It’s not what everybody thinks…there’s a lot of bad stuff. I’ve met a lot of homeless people that won’t even go back in there. I’ve met some kids that use our playground that tell me stories that a 5-year-old should not be telling me.”

KMOX reported last week on a petition making the rounds that calls on city leaders to shut down New Life for good.

As for the park reclamation project, that’s getting a lot of support from nearby restaurants and other businesses that also want to see Lucas Park overcome its notorious past and become an asset to the Washington Avenue loft district.

Tonight (Tues. May 7th) from 6 to 8 pm the latest “Neighbors Night Out” is happening at Robust Cafe (635 Washington Ave.), with 20% of the proceeds from that two-hour period donated to “Friends of Lucas Park”.

Also, voting is underway in an online contest in which the top five projects that receive the most Facebook “likes” will receive $20,000.

You can find out more at or cast your vote directly at

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