After months of burned-out buildings lining the streets, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, has reached a milestone in the recovery process: demolishing buildings that had been damaged in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.
The August killing of the unarmed black teen by white officer Darren Wilson, and a November decision not to indict the officer, brought protests and unrest to the city outside St. Louis.
Protesters burned and looted businesses seemingly unrelated to the incident. The St. Louis County Economic Development (STL) Partnership says that in total 11 buildings were burned in the aftermath, and 250 businesses were damaged by protests, looting and loss of foot traffic.
The demolition for some independent mom-and-pops came to be thanks to a grant of $500,000 from the STL Partnership, secured through the St. Louis County Port Authority. Roughly $200,000 is going toward the tearing down of six buildings, acting as gap coverage for businesses and property owners that didn't have enough insurance to cover the full costs. The remaining $300,000 will be allocated to beautification of new buildings along the center of town on Florrissant Avenue, which saw the most damage and protests.
"That was horrible, that feeling I had when I saw the building burning, but as I saw the building coming down, I felt like, OK, you have cried enough over this, so let's move forward."
For business and property owner Juanita Morris, it's a symbolic step. Morris saw the business she had for some 30 years, Fashions R Boutique, burned in November in the wake of the grand jury decision. She was helped by a young college student to crowdfund more than $23,000 from donors to open a new location in the city, but is determined to re-open in her old spot.
Morris received $25,000 from her insurer for part of the demolition, with an extra $6,700 from the partnership to cover remaining costs.
"That was horrible, that feeling I had when I saw the building burning, but as I saw the building coming down, I felt like, OK, you have cried enough over this, so let's move forward," Morris said.
Part of moving forward will be a beautification process, and this summer business owners will be eligible to apply for additional STL Partnership grants, said Katy Jamboretz, vice president of communications and marketing. The money is typically doled out in sums of $8,000 to $10,000, and unlike in past beautification initiatives, business owners will not be required to match grants dollar for dollar. The STL Partnership has also allotted 72 grants and zero-interest loans totaling nearly $680,000 to businesses in need in the area.
The changes to the Ferguson area are welcome, as home fell in the city by some 50 percent, according to data from The St. Louis Association of Realtors, from an average of $62,813 in August 2014 to $27,860 in January, although some price fluctuation is also due to the off-season for the housing market. The good news is that as the recovery process is underway, home prices have since rebounded to $63,160 through the end of March.
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For Jeniece Andrews, who owned Hidden Treasures, an antique store that was burned in November, demolition is an important milestone for the community. Like Morris, she wants to open in her old spot, and has raised $13,000 via the crowd. Her landlord, Doyle Beck, received $9,611 from the STL Partnership to demolish the building in the coming week, which also housed a Little Caesars restaurant.
"I have faith the building will still have my business, and I have been working toward trying to open back up," Andrews said. "The building coming down is just a step in the process of helping me to realize my dreams again."