"This could be... a microbrewery," the sign reads. A nice idea maybe, but it is more likely to be a methadone clinic. A Florida-based company that operates a a network of drug treatment centers has filed for an occupancy permit to put a new facility in the building.
Colonial Management Group's application is still pending, and it has yet to submit anything to the state Department of Mental Health, which would have to sign off. But opposition among worried neighbors is already building.
"I don't know what else worse they could have there," says Tony Zanti, whose car lot is a half-block north of the site on Gravois Avenue.
Zanti owns twenty properties along Bevo's main drag. After years of working with others to revive the neighborhood, it seems to be taking off. The former bank sits amid a cluster of new Mexican restaurants and the district's signature structure, the Bevo Mill, has reopened as Das Bevo, a destination once more.
Zanti is worried an opioid treatment facility will increase crime and undo the neighborhood's progress.
"It's pretty bad," he says of the possibility. "We're starting to get things going pretty good, and then this pops up."
St. Louis has a booming and complex opioid addiction problem, as detailed in a 2017 Riverfront Times cover story by reporter Mike Fitzgerald. More than 250 people died of overdoses in 2016 in the city. In the region, more than 700 died. But that has not made the prospect of new treatment facilities any more popular.
When Colonial made preparations to open a facility last year in a St. Charles strip mall, the city council passed a resolution to ask the state to block it. But while the Department of Mental Health initially rejected Colonial's application for the New Season St. Charles Treatment Center, it was later given permission to open. A state spokeswoman says New Season was granted a standard six-month provisional accreditation and certification in St. Charles and will undergo a review in September for full accreditation.
A petition was started in Bevo to fight the Gravois facility, but the creator apparently took it offline when tempers flared. Opponents have cited lawsuits and regulatory citations targeting Colonial facilities in other states. In North Carolina, for example, one of the company's facilities was fined by that state's health department, which found staff failed in its oversight of a patient who died.
Colonial did not respond to the RFT's request for comment Friday. We'll update the story if we hear back. (Update: Colonial emailed a statement on Monday. We've posted it below.)
Alderwoman Carol Howard, whose ward includes Bevo, says she has spoken with representatives of the company. She says she is remaining neutral as she gathers more information.
"Is this the highest and best use [of the building]? I don't know," Howard says. "I understand both sides of it."
Legally, the neighborhood might not have much say either way, Howard says. The property is zoned for commercial use, which would permit a clinic.
The building has been vacant for years. Once a U.S. Bank branch, it was briefly a Quick Cash payday lender but now has concrete barriers blocking its parking lot.
Max Coric says he and his father have tried for more than three years to buy the building. They had hoped to move their business, C&C Quality Printing, up the street to the space, but the owner jacked up the price each time they thought they had a deal, he says.
The owner, Bakir Avdagic, didn't respond to the RFT's request for comment. He's had the building for at least a decade, according to property records.
Told that a drug treatment facility might move in instead, Coric seems surprised. He says another drug treatment facility briefly moved in between his shop and the old bank on Gravois, and it was a disaster: Cars lined up along the curb with people drinking, arguing and hooking up.
"I personally have seen outrageous acts of lunacy in front of our building," Coric says.
The details of Colonial's plan apparently have yet to be finalized. Neighborhood organization Better Bevo Now Neighborhood Association said in a Facebook post Colonial Management/New Season has told them it is still doing market research. It has applied for an occupancy permit but has yet to sign a lease, according to the post.
Update: Colonial Management emailed the following statement on Monday morning:
As you know, we are in the midst of an National Opioid Epidemic. Everyday in the U.S, 115 people die of an opioid overdose and this disease does not discriminate. Currently, St. Louis has been the hardest hit by the opioid crisis in the state of Missouri and leads the state in opioid deaths and emergency room visits caused by prescription painkillers and heroin use.We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.
- There were 908 opioid overdose deaths in 2016 in Missouri, a 35% increase over 2015. St. Louis had the highest rank in this unfortunate statistic.
- St Louis City and St Louis County has the highest counts of opioid related ER visits 2011 - 2015 at 6,924 and 7,268 in the state of Missouri. Overall, ER visits in Missouri rose by 21% over prior year.
Many don't know that the The National Institute of Health states that opioid addiction disease can be treated with Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which offers the surest path to recovery for people afflicted with the disease.
Colonial Management Group, LP offers these vital services to help communities begin the healing process. We own and operate over 70 locations and currently serve approximately 900 patients a day in the St. Louis area alone. All our treatment centers are accredited and licensed to provide outpatient treatment which includes a wide range of services including counseling. Most of our patients work, and so the majority visit the clinic between 5am and 7am and the clinic closes at 1pm. As a result, neighboring businesses will not be impacted by our patient traffic.
Analysis of the area around the new location indicates that there are 1000 people affected by opioid addiction disease that live within 20 miles of the site. We have begun the process of obtaining an occupancy permit from the city and if we determine to open a facility at this location, we will do so in the same manner and means that have allowed us to operate in over 70 other communities. Our company prides itself on creating secure facilities and processes that not only meet national standards but go beyond the requirements to provide the best experience for our patients and neighborhoods alike.