The lot used to serve as the home of the Carter Carburetor Corporations factory but has been abandoned for more than 30 years.
The Boys & Girls Club of St. Louis has been working to turn an environmental hazard into a vision of hope and community outreach.
A lot that was formerly home to the Carter Carburetor Corporations factory will now be transformed into a golf facility for children in the neighborhood.
The lot, which is located on Grand Boulevard, has been abandoned for over 30 years.
A resident of the community said he remembered the factory being well and active when he was a kid living in the area. This resident asked not to have his name mentioned.
“It was a car part factory,” the resident said. “They would make parts for a bunch of car companies and then they just tore it all down. So now, there is just that empty lot. I don’t know what they are going to do with it now.”
The former gasoline and diesel carburetor manufacturing plant left behind large amounts of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) and trichloroethylene (TCE). Former U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. said this site is the result of a much bigger problem in America.
“Far too often, older urban neighborhoods with mostly minority populations are turned into toxic dumping grounds,” Clay said in an article for the St. Louis American. “That environmental racism is shameful, and it has been going on for decades.”
This forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in and label this 10-acre land a superfund site.
Region 7 of the EPA overlooks most of the Midwest, including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. They deemed the Carter Carburetor building as a federal superfund site in 1992.
EPA superfund sites are polluted or contaminated locations in the United States which requires a long term response to clean up. Superfund sites are placed on a list by the EPA which gives them national priority to clean up.
Flint Fowler, president of the Boys & Girls Club of St. Louis, described the abandoned factory as a hardship on the neighborhood. He said it was driving money and residents out of the community due to the conditions of the building.
“It was contaminated and it was ugly,” Fowler said. “I wanted to get the building down to make that part of the neighborhood more safe and create a better environment for children. If you are looking at busted windows, overgrown grass and signs that say ‘danger,’ it leaves a psychological impact on not only the kids but the residents, as well.”
The abandoned factory was located in the center of what is known as the “open market,” according to the Fourth District Police Captain. This is not a supermarket of fresh fruit, baked goods and well-priced clothing. Rather, this area of Grand Boulevard is widely reported for its open drug distribution, drug usage and prostitution.
Residents in the area were reluctant to speak on record, wanting to keep their name and face out of the media. The neighborhood contains people walking around carrying firearms. Stray dogs roam the streets and nearby echoes of gunshots aren’t even flinch-worthy for those waiting at the bus stop.
Fowler and the Boys & Girls Club of St. Louis want to use this project to inspire some development in the area.
Fowler said there were two main parts to this mission. The first part was to get rid of the building, which he described as an eyesore for the community.
This included a negotiation between Carter Building Incorporated (CBI) and American Car and Foundry (ACF) Industries. ACF and EPA came to legal agreements in 2013, making ACF responsible for removing asbestos from the building and then the complete demolition of the building. Demolition of the building began in 2015.
The next step ACF agreed to complete was removing all the PCB and TCE from the soil on the superfund site.
According to Fowler, due to the agreement between EPA and ACF, public money did not have to be used for the clean-up of this site. ACF paid for all expenses.
Jeff Weatherford, the EPA’s on-site coordinator for this project, told NPR the contaminated waste would be shipped out on a truck to a chemical waste landfill in Oklahoma. In total, the cleanup cost $30 million.
The second part of Fowler’s plan was to come up with an idea to replace the factory, which would be useful to the neighborhood. The Boys & Girls Club of St. Louis is now working with the PGA REACH program to finalize the design and development of a golf center, which will replace the Carter Carburetor Factory.
Fowler said building a golf facility will introduce a highly profitable sport to a community that doesn’t have much exposure to it.
“When you think about things like environmental justice and how certain communities are left to hold the bag, responsible parties are not held accountable for what they do in certain communities and that becomes an environmental crisis,” Fowler said. “That building was allowed to stand for so long without a lot of pressure to get rid of it that it ultimately impacted the welfare and the health of the neighborhood. Not only physical and psychological health, but the vibrancy, as well.”
The Boys & Girls Club of St. Louis and PGA REACH plan to meet in December and finalize a plan for constructing the golf center. Fowler said he hopes to have the facility ready by 2023.
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Kaelin Triggs (he/him) has been a part of The Journal since 2019. He is a journalism major pursuing a career in sports writing. He also runs for Webster's track and cross country team, and he enjoys playing piano and hanging out with friends and family.