Demo work begins Wednesday on St. Leger Apartments

Troubled Evanston complex makes way for townhouses

CINCINNATI - There's a good chance Anzora Adkins might not get much sleep Tuesday night.

After all, the Evanston Community Council President will be at the controls Wednesday morning when a giant crane begins demolishing the troubled St. Leger Apartments building at the neighborhood intersection known as Five Points.

"I hope I'll be able to drive it," she quipped.

The St. Leger has been closed for months and residents relocated after the structure became a magnet for crime.

It is being demolished to make way for St. Ambrose, a 26-unit townhouse development from Model Management. Planning has been underway for more than three years.

"It feels like it will be mission accomplished," Adkins said. "It will be the beginning of our revitalization here in the business district."

Built in 1905, the 81-unit St. Leger has been the anchor of Five Points for generations.

With a tinge of sadness, Mzell Williams watched Tuesday as crews from the O'Rourke Wrecking Company put up fencing and prepared the 81,000 square foot structure for demolition.

"It's a beautiful building. That brick is just beautiful," he said. "You really have to look at it to admire it."

Williams moved to Evanston in 1959 at a time when there was plenty of robust activity in the neighborhood.

"There was no crime," he said. "You could walk pretty loosely day and night.

That's changed.

For example, Marvin Gates, the son of Althea Myles and Marvin Dillard, was shot to death on the steps of the St. Leger in May of 2012. The case remains unsolved.

"It's not only hard on me, it's hard on my entire family," Myles said while visiting the site this March.

Dillard said he loved his son with all his heart and soul.

"I'd take his place if I could," he said while fighting back tears.

In January of this year, T.J. Womack, 16, was gunned down in front of the St. Leger after he finished playing basketball at the Evanston Recreation Center. The killer remains at-large.

Womack's mother, Vanessa Pugh, still feels a roller coaster of emotions from the night her son was shot.

"Sadness.  Emptiness.  Anger.  Hurt.  Devastation.  All of it," she said. "When I have a notion to cry, I cry. When I don't, I don't. I talk about him. I laugh."

Those are just two of the reasons why the demolition is so important to the community.  

Some have wondered why developers don't simply renovate the St. Leger. Experts say it would be too costly to bring the century-old structure up to current codes.  

Plus, Evanston Community Council Vice-President, Pastor Peter said there's the question of image.

"St. Leger and buildings are not evil.  Areas are not evil.  But, the building has some to stand for something evil," he said.  "For that building to be torn down and given a fresh start I think is one of the best things to ever happen to that corner."

For Anzora Adkins, it's all about the power of positive thinking and doing.

"I would say Evanston is on the move in our housing strategy as well as in the business district," she said.

The community has a new pool adjacent to the Evanston Recreation Center at Five Points.  

New housing is on-line in remodeled buildings on Woodburn Avenue and Montgomery Road.

Plus, Adkins said an announcement will come Wednesday on other projects.

"We have accomplished many developments in the past five or six years and we're very grateful to our sponsors," she said.

Funds for the demolition are coming from the Forward Ohio program and the Cincinnati/Hamilton County Port Authority.

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