The St. Louis pastor who merged his church with a community development corporation

The Church of the Tabernacle is more than a church. In 2014, the leaders there created the Tabernacle Community Development Corporationwho then bought dozens of vacant properties in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood north of St. Louis.

Through the rehabilitation, the organization has transformed these properties into more than 30 habitable units, and more are under construction. It’s not just housing on the nonprofit’s plate: the group has also invested $1.5 million in a closed elementary school, which reopened in December as a community center. The centre, called the Hub, has since added a medical clinic, social workers and, last week, a bank branch of First Bank.

On Saint Louis liveTabernacle Church senior pastor Andre Alexander – who is also president of the nonprofit TCDC – said that his faith first inspired him in 2014 to consider combining the missions of his church with that of community development.

“It’s hard to talk about a God who loves you if you never see that God’s love,” he said. “I think through economic development, empowerment, that’s one of the many ways we can see God’s love.”

The group’s efforts have sought to address multiple challenges in neighborhoods like JeffVanderLou. Like other northern St. Louis communities, JeffVanderLou saw its population plummet, to less than 6,000 from a peak of around 40,000 in the 1950s.

Alexander recognizes the challenges inherent in turning around an area hard hit by vacancy and divestment. Before becoming a pastor, he earned an MBA from Webster University and an electrical engineering degree from the University of Missouri.

He points out that TCDC’s projects have not only put 35 families into homes, but created 103 construction jobs. The group rehabilitated a total of 18 houses.

“Every house I just talked about was vacant,” he added. “It was empty, doomed, in some areas falling apart, and we put it back together, we restored it. And the beauty of doing that is that it gives people hope.

For most of the non-profit organization’s existence, this work has been funded by private donations – but last year things changed. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last year, St. Louis awarded the Tabernacle a federal community development grant. This, with a redevelopment designation from the City Council of Aldermenopened up even more tools for the nonprofit to spur development, including tax abatements to help existing residents stay in their homes by keeping property taxes stable.

Alexander is grateful for the additional resources. But the process was not easy. Banks and creditors have largely ignored the nonprofit’s efforts. The first bank to extend a line of credit to TCDC, First Bank, opened a new branch at the Hub Community Center on October 17.

Yet there is still a long way to go for the region.

“We’re talking about decades of divestment,” Alexander noted, but he added that the construction of NGA West and other developments in North St. Louis present an opportunity for real change.

“This is truly a defining moment for us and our city,” Alexander said. “No questions about that. Anyone who says otherwise, I don’t know where they live and breathe.

“St. Louis on the Air” tells you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our area. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant.The sound engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Norma P. Rex