Affton is seeing a renaissance of brand-new developments

Car wash rejected since it does not fit in with Affton

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Photo by Erin Achenbach

Dinner-goers visit 9 Mile Garden, a food truck garden in Affton in July 2020. The state’s first food truck garden, 9 Mile Garden opened July 3, 2020.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

Residents and representatives of Affton see an “Affton renaissance” when they look at the wave of new development along Gravois Road, including 9 Mile Garden, and the new subdivisions that are bringing families to the 63123 ZIP code.

Sixth District Councilman Ernie Trakas first used the term in a council committee hearing April 27 while arguing that the county should reject a car wash proposed along Gravois Road because it doesn’t fit in with the new vibe in Affton and a restaurant would be in demand in Affton’s now-thriving business scene. The council ultimately rejected the car wash unanimously.

“This piece of Affton is, if not on the cusp already, well into a renaissance along this corridor,” Trakas said, pointing to 9 Mile Garden, Missouri’s first permanent food truck garden now open at Gravois and Tobey, as a “refreshing” example. “My concern here is that this renaissance along this corridor in Affton continue, and this car wash does not play well into this renaissance. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but (the same company’s car wash in Arnold is) an eyesore.”

Panera/St. Louis Bread Co. was slated to expand across the street from its Grasso Plaza location at the Breakfast and Burger site with a drive-thru, but dropped the plans as the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Trakas is not the first 6th District councilman who has denied a business saying it’s not a “good fit” for Affton: Steve Stenger blocked a Value Village thrift store from a vacant storefront in April 2013.

The renaissance in Affton has been led by developer Larry Chapman, who used $10 million in tax-increment financing granted by St. Louis County five years ago to start 9 Mile Garden and rehab the facades and parking around the Affton Plaza shopping center that surrounds 9 Mile. The triangle-shaped land sits between Gravois, Mackenzie and Weber roads.

Chapman created a 57-slide Powerpoint presentation highlighting the many changes on the site for a statutorily required five-year TIF update held April 27, but he was unable to attend the meeting so county Director of Planning Gail Choate gave the presentation instead.

Choate outlined how the roughly 12 acres looked in 2016 and how it looks now, noting the transformation of outdated buildings to updated facades with wood and stone veneers that match business to business, and in the last few years the addition of new businesses like Popeye’s, Imo’s and Smoothie King.

“Affton Plaza has blossomed, there’s facade improvements, upgraded sidewalks, new signage,” Choate said, which meets all the requirements of the TIF.

But the “crown jewel” is 9 Mile Garden and its associated indoor bar, The Canteen, made possible by the TIF and the demolition of six houses. “This is the real McCoy, what is there in place now. There’s a concert venue area, food truck alley area.”

The family focused activities, outdoor movies, outdoor performances and community events at 9 Mile Garden — even an adult prom that was held last week — is entirely unique in the area and in Missouri.

“It’s really a unique place for St. Louis County,” Choate said. “They opened about a year ago and had a short time where they closed down, but they’re back going great guns now.”

Building on that momentum, three new subdivisions built or under construction are bringing hundreds of new houses and residents to unused sections of Our Redeemer, Resurrection and New Mt. Sinai cemeteries.

A resident of more than 50 years who has served on the boards of the Affton school and fire districts, Robert Hehmeyer, told the Planning Commission last year that the growth and new types of housing in Affton delighted him and would bring in new businesses.

“The pride in Affton is unbelievable,” Hehmeyer said. “I can’t say enough about how this will benefit my community. I’ve seen businesses die over the years as our population aged.”

New residents bring more money to spend in Affton, said Board of Education member Justin Carney, the former St. Louis County planning director.

“As people are able to move in, they bring that spending commercial developers look for,” Carney said. “The new Tower Tee, the food truck plaza development, all of these commercial developments in Affton will benefit from having more houses, more rooftops, more families to spend money.”

Trakas praised the out-of-the-box thinking that led to 9 Mile in South County.

“If all developers were the stature of this one — talk about a good corporate citizen, the results speak for themselves,” Trakas said. “If you’re going to use TIF money, this is how it should end up.”

Affton’s other representative, 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, said her family has enjoyed the 9 Mile experience.

“They set a high bar, and I’ve taken that with me as I’ve engaged with other developers,” Clancy said.

The project manager for Chapman’s company Seneca Development, Yvonne Merlotti, said that her company spent significant time in the community before bringing in new businesses to Affton Plaza.

“After a huge investment in the community, we’re obviously concerned about Affton’s success overall. The businesses we’re bringing in are what the community really wanted,” Merlotti said. “We heard time and time again, places to eat, and they all wanted drive-thrus. .. I really believe that if we got this property back out there, you could put a number of restaurants in there in a heartbeat and it would probably be more meaningful and desired.”