A new $20 million economic hub opens in north St. Louis County promoting upward mobility

DELLWOOD — The first phase of a $20 million redevelopment of a long-vacant shopping plaza into a community economic hub opened Thursday.

The new R&R Marketplace is meant to empower the north St. Louis County regional community and meet their economic development needs, said Beverly Jenkins, president and CEO of the nonprofit Refuge and Restoration, which led the development.

“To get here to open the Marketplace is a pure victory,” she said. “At the end of the day, this is about upward mobility.”

Jenkins noted that vision is reflected in the tenants of the 88,000-square-foot development who first opened their doors on Thursday. They include centers for career development and training, co-working and innovation, addiction treatment and early childhood education, as well as a restaurant and a bank.

Many community members, including Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones, were happy to see these are the tenants that finally filled a space that had been vacant for decades.

“I cannot begin to tell you about the meetings I’ve had about potential tenants for this building: Chuck E. Cheese, Ruler Foods, (a) movie theater, (a) storage facility, I heard it all,” Jones said to a crowd of hundreds who turned out for the event.

Some Dellwood residents like Juanita Travis, 71, recalled how disappointing it was when the Schnucks that had occupied space in the plaza closed.

“To see it close was really depressing,” she said. “This is really a joy, having this come back and seeing the community come back to life.”

Fellow Dellwood resident Loretta Price, 65, said the opening on Thursday sparked inspiration and hope for her, especially after her community was a focal point of massive unrest following the killing of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014.

“I have watched this renaissance before my eyes,” she said, “from broken windows and boarded-up buildings to new enterprises and families coming back to the community.”

The events of Ferguson came early in the process of when Jenkins and her husband, Ken, a pastor at Refuge and Restoration Church and the board chairman of the Refuge and Restoration nonprofit, began really working toward making this idea a reality.

Beverly Jenkins explained it helped fuel their drive to see this project through.

“It woke us up,” she said. “Seeing the people’s cry and the sadness, the anger – all those things – we were like, ‘We can’t back out.’”

The community had weathered enough broken promises from those who had said they would step up to help, Jenkins said.

Ken Jenkins added they may have not had much experience with economic development projects, but they were connected to the north county community.

“We live here,” he said. “We pastor here, so the people here know us. Being a grassroots organization really gives you an advantage.”

And the Jenkinses applied that connection to build out spaces that responded to the needs and wants of the surrounding community.

Beverly Jenkins speaks with a community member outside the R&R Marketplace in Dellwood, MO on September 14, 2023.

Eric Schmid


St. Louis Public Radio

Beverly Jenkins speaks with a community member outside the R&R Marketplace in Dellwood on Thursday.

Access to capital

One of the elements residents were adamant about wanting was wanting better access to capital, said Beverly Jenkins.

“Some people that we know are putting kids through college with their businesses, but they don’t have the capacity to expand, to branch out, to scale it, to do any of those things because they’ve only heard, ‘No,’” she said.

Midwest BankCentre’s new branch in the development can now respond to that need, Jenkins said.

“They set it in a place that most (businesses or banks) are disinvesting from,” she said. “They invested with their best.”

Midwest BankCentre is referring to this branch as its Innovation Center, where the bank will experiment with new products and services that can uniquely serve a growing moderate income community, said Orvin Kimbrough, chairman and CEO of Midwest BankCentre.

“We’re not coming in with the idea that we know everything that this community needs,” he said. “We’re coming in with the idea that we’re going to listen, build trust, learn and develop products.”

And it gives the bank the chance to then scale what works for Dellwood and the surrounding community to the rest of the St. Louis region and nationally, Kimbrough said.

“We’re looking at products and services that actually make sense for this community,” he said. “Because if it makes sense for this community, then the community will actually bank with us and thus help us be profitable.”

Kimbrough said his bank has set aside $200 million over five years to lend to people, nonprofits, small businesses and other community-focused institutions in historically disinvested communities. He added there are dozens of payday loan establishments in the area surrounding the new R&R Marketplace.

“We want to put them out of business,” he said.

Loretta Price takes a photo inside the Northe County Innovation Center on September 14, 2023. The innovation center is part of the R&R Marketplace in Dellwood, MO, which opened the same day.

Eric Schmid


St. Louis Public Radio

Loretta Price takes a photo inside the North County Innovation Center on Thursday, part of the R&R Marketplace in Dellwood.

Institutional support

This kind of a multimillion-dollar project doesn’t come easy. For the Jenkinses, it took around a decade to coalesce. They were new to raising large amounts of money, said Ken Jenkins.

“What we did know how to do was tell a story,” he said. “And we went out and shared this story with anybody who would listen.”

It resonated.

The R&R Marketplace eventually locked up tens of million of dollars in new market tax credits, which help create economic activity for nonprofit and for-profit businesses in distressed or severely distressed rural and urban areas across the country, said Bill Carson, who leads this type of business, U.S. Bank in the southeast U.S.

In all, the credits yielded an investment from the bank totaling a little more than $4 million, he said. (Midwest BankCentre is also financing close to $6 million in loans.)

“That’s exactly what this program was designed to do,” he said. “We know that the best way to sustain communities and to create wealth in communities is to have community ownership. Too often African American businesses have been underfinanced, underserved and have had a hard time getting off the ground.”

“This marketplace gives space and resources for businesses to grow and further stabilize the community,” Carson added.

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