Downtown group working to improve Lucas Park

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by Diana Zoga

KMOV.com

Posted on June 22, 2012 at 8:27 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 24 at 6:24 AM

1359 Saint Charles St.

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ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- A group of loft dwellers, businesses, and other supporters say they are more than half way to the goal of raising $80,000 to revamp a small downtown park, tucked between Washington Avenue and Central Library in downtown St. Louis.

People near Lucas Park have complained about drug use, drinking, and most recently, a man was beaten with a pipe during an argument around lunchtime on Tuesday.

"I've been staring at Lucas Park, thinking that a change was needed for 12 years since I moved here," said Matt O'Leary, president of Friends of Lucas Park, a nonprofit devoted to revitalizing the park.

The group plans to add a new playground, landscape, and upgrade the irrigation system.  The theory is that a neat, tidy park will force out any illegal behavior.  The homeless will be welcomed, but people who camp out or commit crimes in the park won't be, says O'Leary.

"We're just trying to make this a park that everyone in the community can use. The homeless people have been in the neighborhood for a long time and they are part of our community, but other people have a right to be here as well. So, we are going to make physical improvements
that encourage positive behaviors and then work with our neighbors to encourage people to come here," explained O'Leary.

The group will still have to apply for permits to get the work done. Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay's Chief of Staff, says the city supports the private effort.

"It's not an unusual situation, it's a great situation.  We have a similar public-private partnership that has made Forest Park one of the great parks in the world," said Rainford.

Over the years, others have tried to improve Lucas Park. In April of 2010, a new dog park opened. Last year, the city told News 4 that it would keep up with efforts to close the park for an hour during the work week so that crews could pick up trash. 

If Friends of Lucas Park succeeds, O'Leary envisions more families investing in downtown St. Louis.

"Kids signal to people that a place is safe, that a place is desirable and we want to send that signal and recruit more people down here because a lot of people want to move downtown, particularly people in the younger generations. But, you've gotta have a couple of things for those families to get them down here and a playground is one of the key ones."

Friends of Lucas Park registered as a nonprofit corporations with the state in March. The group is holding another fundraiser to meet its $80,000 goal in August. Details can be found on The Friends of Lucas Park's website:  friendsoflucaspark.blogspot.com/

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