For more than 20 years, Rise has worked to revitalize communities and neighborhoods across the St. Louis region, partnering with nonprofits, financial institutions and government entities to bring change.
Since its creation in 1989, the organization has helped develop more than 5,000 homes and 100,000 square feet of commercial space, helping communities as a consultant, lender and community developer. With a comprehensive approach that envelopes all stages of neighborhood development, Rise can help breathe life back into areas of the city that have seen disinvestment (defined as “a diminution or expenditure of capital investment, as in the failure to replenish inventories or in the sale of a capital item”).
Stephen Acree, the organization’s executive director and president, has been with Rise since 1999 and has worked in community development for more than 30 years. He says seeing a community rejuvenated, as well as knowing Rise played a part in that rejuvenation, is rewarding.
“We tend to work in parts of the region that have seen disinvestment and need some help to come back,” he says. “We do a substantial amount of real estate development. We’ll work with a neighborhood and an organization to help them do organizational planning and community neighborhood planning.”
From there, Rise might be a first-end developer. If an area has been suffering from disinvestment and isn’t seen as profitable, Rise often takes the first step to do development in the area.
“The notion is to catalyze [the area] so other investment will follow,” Acree says.
Rise started working on development on a small scale, partnering with neighborhood organizations to do a few buildings at a time. They would provide investment in an early phase of development, leading to an “extremely active and very effective” predevelopment loan fund.
“[The fund] provided a source of financing early on that organizations could use to get their project to a bank for financing,” Acree says.
He uses St. Louis’ Forest Park South East neighborhood as an example. Rise started working in the area in the early 2000s to “prime the pump.” There was neighborhood planning in the area, but a lot of nuisance behavior and crime was emanating from the poorly managed rental properties there.
“It was a bad time for that neighborhood,” Acree recalls.
Rise put together a package and bought 36 of the buildings in a three- by four-block area. The organization did historic rehabilitation, put the buildings under professional property management and converted 12 of them to single-family homes.
“That was very intentionally designed to be a substantial enough intervention to try to catalyze additional investment,” Acree says. “That’s been more of our model since: to try to do things that are a little more impactful.”
Rehabilitation of entire neighborhoods takes a lot of work. Residents want to keep the historic context of their neighborhood intact. They don’t want to see demolition, Acree says. These properties are often scattered throughout an area, making them a challenge for a typical developer.
That’s why we have a place in fulfilling that role,” Acree says. “One of the difficulties we have in the work that we do is that these [projects] don’t happen in short time frames. These are projects that can take three or four years to get going, and the life cycle of turning around a neighborhood can be a decade-long process,” Acree says.
Rise partners with community development nonprofits all over the St. Louis area, providing them with the financial backing and expertise they need to make an impact on their neighborhood.
In 2018, Rise is working toward closing on a historic rehabilitation development in St. Louis’ Dutchtown neighborhood. The project includes 46 apartments and an area of Chippewa Street’s former commercial district that will feature a restaurant incubator and space for retailers and services.
Rise also found an opportunity to work with St. Louis’ youth while doing planning for the Gravois/Jefferson area. The team discovered a surge of interest from young people in the community, wanting to be involved in their evolving environs.
“We made a big effort to do youth engagement there and found that a lot of the youth population would like to be involved in the change they want to see in their community, but they didn’t know how to be connected,” Acree says. “We’re entering into a partnership with the St. Louis Internship Program to have a youth-employment program that’s focused on planning and community development.”
Over the years, Rise has built a reputation as a professional organization that’s committed to its mission, backed by a team of people who are a part of that team because “this is truly what they want to do,” according to Acree.
“We’ve built and sustained a reputation as being an organization that gets things done,” he says. “I get to run an organization where people want to come to work and really believe in the work we do.”
Rise, 1627 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314-333-7000, risestl.org