ST. LOUIS – The Downtown West neighborhood has undergone a transformation over the last few years. Besides a brand-new Major League Soccer stadium, parking garage, and refurbished businesses, one that hopes to turn heads is the latest entrance to the budding cannabis industry.

Former NBA players Al Harrington and Larry Hughes, along with Abe Givens and Dan Pettigrew, are behind the new business that promises jobs, diversity, and inclusion.

“Larry already doing all the stuff in the community with his basketball stuff, and I know he does a lot with the homeless and all these different things,” said Al Harrington, chairman, and CEO of Viola STL. “Obviously, this is just a match made in heaven.”

The store, located in the 2000 block of Olive Street, will be the only black-owned dispensary in downtown’s central business district.

“Historically, cannabis has been used to destroy the black community,” Harrington said. “You know, 85% of the drug arrests in the black community for the last 40 or 50 years have been cannabis-related. Only four percent of these companies are owned by people of color.”

The transformation of the former Imo’s into a marijuana dispensary, just steps from police headquarters and across the street from CITYPARK Stadium, is just one of the many changes that have occurred in the Downtown West neighborhood.

“I’m in favor of the legalization of marijuana, and I’m a child of the 60s, so it’s not new to me,” said Bob Schmidt, a St. Louis resident.

Maggie O’Brien’s has changed as well in the past year, and they welcome their new neighbors.

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” said Cameron Snively, a manager of Maggie O’Brien’s. “Doesn’t really affect us in any way. People get jobs there, and it’s good for St. Louis. So, that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

Viola STL says it plans to add more than 200 jobs between the downtown location and another Viola STL in the 3400 block of Iowa Street in the Cherokee district.

The store will open on Jan. 27.