- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - St. Louis’ population has dropped by more than half over the past seven decades, leaving thousands of lots of vacant land dotting the landscape, especially on the city’s north side. A new program announced Thursday seeks to put that vacant land to good use.

Mayor Francis Slay and leaders of Chicago-based Fresh Coast Capital are pairing up on a $1 million effort to develop vacant land in St. Louis, Kansas City, Missouri, and four other Midwestern communities into tree farms, urban agriculture and other green projects.

Slay says the project will “breathe new life” into vacant and abandoned land.

Fresh Coast plans to plant 27,000 fast-growing trees on a total of 60 acres of land among the six cities - the others being Youngstown, Ohio; Elkhart, Indiana; and Battle Creek and Flint, Michigan. Fresh Coast leaders told the city council in Kansas City last year that it creates a “park-like” setting in a short time.

The St. Louis land includes 42 lots provided to Fresh Coast for $1.

Fresh Coast officials said the plantings will sequester 28 million pounds of carbon dioxide over a 15-year period, and St. Louis leaders said it’ll help beautify neighborhoods and help reduce storm water runoff.

“Fresh Coast’s urban tree farms will turn 42 unused lots from a liability that costs the city thousands of dollars a year to maintain to an asset for the community,” Slay said. “This innovative reuse of land will create a more sustainable, resilient neighborhood.”

Fresh Coast Capital CEO and co-founder Nicole Chavas said the company focuses on improving landscapes in the Rust Belt and Midwest.

The goal is to “turn vacant land - which is seen as a liability - into a unique and attractive asset,” Chavas said.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the Indiana city involved in the project is Elkhart, not Gary, and to correct the spelling of Chavas’ name in the last paragraph.

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