Hey, Neighbor!Ja-Mes "Jay" Watson, III

Project Connect Manager and Hyde Park resident, Jay Watson
Photo provided by: St. Louis Development Corporation

As a Hyde Park resident he is passionate about energizing and organizing local residents and community groups that are key to helping revitalize his hometown. Jay is the Manager of Project Connect, a St. Louis Development Corporation Initiative, and a strong advocate for what he calls a "physical renaissance," of North city neighborhoods.

As a native St. Louisan where did you grow up and how many generations of your family have ties to the St. Louis area?

I spent most of my childhood between two communities; University City and the North St. Louis City neighborhood of Baden. Both sides of my family can trace their roots back to the Meridian, Mississippi area and they migrated north and first settled in East St. Louis in the 1930’s.

After growing up here and attending college out of state what lured you back to St. Louis?

After graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta, I wanted to come home to St. Louis since my then future wife was attending graduate school at Washington University. My entire family lives in St. Louis, and I decided to continue my engineering education in Rolla, Missouri.

As parents with a growing young family what are some of the best attributes about living in the Hyde Park neighborhood? Do you encourage others to consider living there, or in nearby neighborhoods?

To begin with, my wife and I love the many Victorian style homes in Hyde Park and their amazing color combinations that liven up the neighborhood. More important, are the people who call this neighborhood home. We fell in love with its residents and admire their toughness and resiliency. They are loving people and getting to know them has been a blessing for our family. I highly encourage people to move to this neighborhood. I can rattle off several positive attributes; a centrally located park (think Lafayette Square), easy transportation access (I-70 is a stone’s throw away), potential commercial district along Salisbury Ave. (think Delmar Loop), local Fire Engine house #8, and best of all the notable red brick homes nestled throughout the neighborhood.

In your job with Project Connect you interact with many north city residents on a daily basis. What is the most frequently asked question regarding the Next NGA West project and how do you answer it?

I’d say that it’s a fair characterization that most North city residents I meet are welcoming NGA to the neighborhood. What’s more exciting for residents is the much-needed capital reinvestment in the area that should help stimulate growth and encourage additional development. The most frequently asked question I hear is “Will NGA collect my information while I am home?” My answer is always no --- NGA is responsible for collecting geographic-related information and their mission is not about gathering personal information on St. Louisans.

Both you and your spouse are Cardinal Ritter High School grads. How did your high school experience help prepare you for your current position with Project Connect?

One thing Cardinal Ritter prides itself on is its interdisciplinary educational track. That multifaceted background contributes to the skillsets that help me manage the multiple moving parts associated with Project Connect and development projects of this scale.

You have unique first-hand perspective regarding the efforts to revitalize the north city area and the role that the construction of Next NGA West will play in that effort. How do you think Next NGA West will transform the neighborhoods both in and around St. Louis Place?

This is an amazing opportunity for North St. Louis city and I think the Next NGA West campus is the catalyst to bring about the physical renaissance North City needs. There is rich history and culture in North St. Louis that is often overlooked due to limiting factors of crime, blight, poverty, etc. I strongly feel that this revitalization will eventually transform the area into a harmonious community that features busy streets, vibrant business corridors filled with shops and restaurants, bustling arts districts, colorful daycare centers, and much more. Best of all, this area will regain its neighborhood charm and character which is what St. Louisans take such great pride in.

The views presented are those of the participant interviewed and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or NGA, or any of their components. No endorsement is expressed or implied.

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