Reviews and Articles about Benton Park

 

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More Than Just A Park

By Traci Angel- August, 2004

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There are a number of reasons people are leaving their comfortable and paid-off homes to come to Benton Park. It could be the chance to be part of one of the hottest residential areas in the city. It could be to try their hand at rehabbing in an area with a lot to offer.

The Benton Park neighborhood in South City was declared a national historic district in 1985, and the draw of its Victorian mansions and mixed development makes it inviting for lovers of old houses and people looking for something to do on the weekends. Its proximity to Soulard, the Tower Grove business district and Interstate 55 make it an easy location from which to travel, as well.

Although there is renovation throughout the neighborhood, one of the more unique projects is St. Agnes Lofts. The 100-year-old former Catholic school at 2216 Sidney is being sectioned off into 12 loft units, ranging in price from $150,000 to $300,000. The lofts are upscale in design and will use the nine-foot-tall windows of the original structure as design elements in the new spaces. During renovations, a newer addition was removed from the building’s front, which earned the building a place on the historic registry. A display unit will be open for tours later this month.

Other developers, such as Millennium Restoration, have been giving the area a face-lift for the last decade.

Although you can walk for blocks just looking at various restoration projects, Benton Park is also home to great places for shopping and dining.

To find the perfect Victorian furniture to fill your rehabbed home, try the many shops along Cherokee Antique Row. The Purple Cow Antiques (2010 Cherokee, 314-771-9400) is great for unusual finds, and an abundance of mahogany furniture is available at Antique Menagerie (2125 Cherokee, 314-664-7916). Just off Cherokee is a hidden secret—The Hat Mart (3411 California, 314-772-7577), where you can try on funky vintage hats and bridal veils.

Eating in Benton Park can be casual, as with family favorite Hodak’s Restaurant & Bar (2100 Gravois, 314-776-7292). Upscale dining options include Lemp Mansion Restaurant and Inn (3322 DeMenil, 314-664-8024), Niche (1831 Sidney, 314-773-7755, or the romantic Sidney Street Café (2000 Sidney, 314-771-5777).

But like its diverse demographics, Benton Park is filled with variety. Try Gus’ Pretzels (1820 Arsenal, 314-664-4010) for one of St. Louis’ favorite snacks; an eclectic drink at Venice Café (1903 Pestalozzi, 314-772-5994); and Brazilian eats at Yemanja Brasil (2900 Missouri, 314-771-7457), which recently expanded its patio. Don’t forget the creative food at Frazer’s (811 Pestalozzi, 314-773-8646).

 

 

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Brick by brick: If you build it, they will come

Shawn Clubb, Of the Suburban Journals, Oakville-Mehlville Journal, 06/29/2005
 

Pickup trucks decked out with layers of ladders have become as common as stop signs in South St. Louis — one sign of the rehabilitation craze in the city.

Meanwhile, some areas have enough empty space to build new homes, another facet of the push to bring people back into the city.

Whichever method is favored, the result is the revitalization of neighborhoods.

"More people are moving into the city than moving out for the first time in 50 years. Perceptions are much better about what the city is," Mayor Francis Slay said.

NiNi Harris, who has done rehab work on her own home and gives architecture and history tours for Maryville University, said some people might realize there is rehabilitation work going on in their own neighborhoods, but they might not know how widespread it is in the city.

"The momentum is enormous," Harris said. "People fixing things up just spreads from one neighborhood to another. You see these neighborhoods one at a time succeeding."

Harris cited Lafayette Square, Soulard, South Hampton, Bevo Mill and Benton Park are among the neighborhoods that have seen renovation Renaissances. She said the homes in Lafayette Square were in such bad repair 30 years ago that no one even recognized the beauty of the area.

"Now that area is spectacular and has won a national award for being such a beautiful neighborhood. It spills into other areas," Harris said.

She said areas including Soulard and Benton Park used to be rife with absentee landlords, but more and more people are buying homes there and renovating them to be their own. She credits many Bosnians for rehabbing the commercial buildings in Bevo.

Harris said the city's population is growing by people moving in to these homes from the suburbs.

"Some are people who as children lived here and they want to come home. Others were raised in the suburbs and never lived in the city, but they decided they wanted a more urban lifestyle," she said.

Mark Benckendorf remodeled several homes in the Benton Park neighborhood, but he has now formed a company, The 5700 Property LLC, to build new homes at the site of the Truman Center on Arsenal Street in the Southwest Garden neighborhood. He said both new construction and rehabilitation are tools developers use to revitalize the city.

"The beauty is now that we've revitalized some of these areas through renovation, the market now supports new construction, which ten years ago it wouldn't have been so," he said.

"The urban pioneers have improved the area and made it attractive for everybody else."

Slay pointed to home development in Gaslight Square, where over several blocks homebuilders built homes that cost $250,00 and more.

"It's been a very successful development and these builders are looking at doing more," the mayor said.

Benckendorf said he has already gotten a lot on interest in the new home development from people now living in Chesterfield and West County.

"They want to move back to the city," he said. "They work downtown or they work in the near city and they're tired of the drive.

"They're seeking the urban lifestyle, the ability to walk to the park, to walk up the street a few blocks to a restaurant. You don't need to drive everywhere. You have the ability to form a real community just by walking around."

However, some new home projects are not viewed as positive developments by all.

Harris said she would have preferred to see rehabilitation to having homes torn down in the McRee Town neighborhood. She said most of the homes were not beyond saving.

"The new houses will never ever be able to compare to these old ones," Harris said. "We don't have the craftsmen. We don't have the materials. It is impossible to recreate these."

Benckendorf disagreed, saying the "slash and burn" approach was the only way to get interest back in that area.

"The area was so bad, five or ten developers couldn't make an impact," Benckendorf said. "The city has taken the right approach. It's just a shame to take a look at the architecture lost in that process."

New homes are being built in part of the McRee Town neighborhood as Botanical Heights. Calls by the Journal to McBride Homes, the developer of the project, were not returned.

Harris said the issue is making the new homes fit in with surrounding homes. She said new homes are not bad, when the land is already vacant.

Slay said he prefers the character and durability of old homes, but new homes also will benefit the city.

"If you build a quality residential development it will succeed in the city," he said.
 

 

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N DEPTH: REAL ESTATE: A QUATERLY REPORT
From the April 30, 2004 print edition

Benton Park rehabbers seek historic credits

Benton Park West predicted to be next 'boomtown' for rehabs
Laurie Sybert

Many of St. Louis' oldest neighborhoods are the new hot spots for rehab.

"I think the most up-and-coming neighborhood is Benton Park," said Bill Hart, owner of Janus Building Renovation Co. "Homeowners and developers can get in at the right price, make an investment, and it will increase in value.

"Old North St. Louis has a lot going on. And I think that Benton Park West is going to be the next boomtown."

Benton Park West and adjoining Dutchtown are currently being researched to receive national historic designation in order to qualify for Missouri historic tax credits, said Jo Ann Vatcha, a housing analyst with the city of St. Louis' Community Development Agency (CDA). The neighborhoods contain 5,000 homes.

Vatcha and the CDA are many times the crucial contacts for neighborhood organizations hoping to spark rehab of specific houses and for developers interested in what housing is available for rehab in the city. And this year, business is good.

"It's booming. Absolutely booming," Vatcha said. She credits the historic tax credits as the reason for the boom. The credits allow a developer to receive 25 percent of the cost of the rehab as a tax credit on their Missouri taxes. Or they can sell the tax credit to the homeowners, who can spread the credit out for up to 10 years.

Hart, whose educational background is in historic preservation, researches each house before he begins work on it.

"It helps me, because then I know what year to place it in, and I know what materials to use," he said. He passes on the history to the new homeowners.

Hart sells his rehabbed houses, townhouses and condominiums for between $100,000 and $300,000. His buyers usually are first-time home buyers, generally city residents who have been renting here and people who are new to the area.

"It's really rewarding to have new urban recruits," said Hart, who has lived in the city since 1978. He said that the sense of community in rehabbed neighborhoods is strong, and most have active neighborhood associations.

Most of Hart's rehabs include fireplaces, hardwood floors, authentic-style woodwork and stained-glass windows in the character of the house, as well as modern kitchens and off-street parking.

Mark Benkendorf, owner of Historic Home Renovators LLC, began his business two years ago after a successful corporate career at Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. He sees the neighborhoods of Tower Grove East, Benton Park West, Fox Park and McKinley Heights as the most popular rehab areas right now.

"There's a tremendous potential for the historic preservation market in St. Louis," Benkendorf said. "We're very fortunate to have so much brick. It has helped preserve the city's image."

Buyers of Benkendorf-renovated homes, which range in price from $215,000 to $350,000, tend to be couples in their 30s with children. They are looking for the values offered in the city, he said. For example, a much smaller home in University City might sell for $300,000, but a renovated $300,000 home would offer much more space, plus the tax credits that make taxes lower for up to 10 years.

"A house that might have taxes of $3,000 a year in the county would be about $250 a year for 10 years in the city," he said.

The city's subsidies for first-time home buyers also promote purchases in the historic districts, he said.

"It is making it attractive for young couples," he said.

Benkendorf's rehabs include upgraded kitchens that could include hickory wood cabinets and granite countertops, natural hardwood floors, off-street parking or garages, privacy fences, upgraded bathrooms and rear decks.

His next project is to convert the Truman Restorative Center on Arsenal into condominiums and build single-family homes on the center's seven-acre grounds.

Millennium Restoration and Development Corp., owned by Tim Vogt and his mother, Claire, sells rehabbed city properties for $100,000 to $600,000.

"An important part of our vision is that we're able to provide quality housing for all income levels. We do restorations on buildings that are sold as low- or moderate-income housing, where the sales are restricted based on how much the home buyer makes," Tim Vogt said.

He sees Benton Park, Benton Park West, Tower Grove East and Fox Park as prime rehab areas.

Buyers of Millennium's properties generally are moving to the city from the county or already live in a city apartment and are first-time home buyers. Many are looking for the good value the rehabbed properties offer, as well as property appreciation.

"Most of our properties appreciate between 8 percent and 14 percent per year," Vogt said.

Millennium uses new doors, windows and baseboards that are milled to match the historic look of the homes. The homes generally include upgrades, such as tile floors in the kitchens and baths, as well as granite countertops in the kitchen, landscaped yards, leaded stained-glass windows, first- or second-floor laundry rooms, gas fireplaces, intercom systems, garages, and porches. The rehab process also extends below ground with new sewer, gas and water lines.

lsybert@bizjournals.com


© 2004 American City Business Journals Inc.

 

 

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Microdevelopers are bringing back neighborhoods one rehab at a time

By Tavia Evans, Of the Post-Dispatch, Tuesday, Jun. 15 2004

When George Brown bought a four-family flat in 1999, it had been an eyesore for years in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

He paid $12,000 for the house, in the 1400 block of North Park Place, at a sale of tax-delinquent property. Inside the house, plumbing and electrical systems had been stripped, and cabinets had been torn off the walls.

Still, Brown, the owner of Bottom Line Development, saw potential.

"This neighborhood could become the next Soulard," he said. "It's conveniently located near downtown, close to the highway and (with) easy access to the airport. I plan to be here when this neighborhood comes back."

Microdevelopers like Brown are becoming part of the city's bigger plan to restore ailing neighborhoods one rehab at a time. Many operate with a handful of employees and single parcels of property.

Many work closely with city agencies, such as the St. Louis Development Corp., which allows them to acquire tax-delinquent and abandoned properties through its Land Reutilization Authority.

Rodney Crim, the SLDC's executive director, said the empty lots and boarded-up houses, especially on the city's north side, represent the opportunity to revive many neighborhoods.

"Small developers have been the key to taking (Land Reutilization Authority) parcels and turning them into productive reuse, or (they) rehab the property and agree to demolish and build new homes throughout the city," Crim said. "In every neighborhood across the city, you see some new development or rehab development going on now."

At Bottom Line Development, Brown handles much of the renovation but hires contractors to do carpentry and electrical rewiring. It has taken four years to convert the North Park Place property back into a single-family house with six bedrooms and three bathrooms. It recently appraised for $130,000, about 10 times the going price for row houses just a block away.

Ward 3 Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. said he dissuades large developers from acquiring the tracts of vacant lots and abandoned property in his ward, which includes Hyde Park.

"The big developers took these big historic homes and turned them into multiple-family dwellings and received tax credits for it," he said. "They didn't bother with homeowners and only used rental units. The only way to sell this neighborhood is to bring families back."

Bosley has sent letters of recommendation to the Land Reutilization Authority on behalf of small developers who want to obtain property in his ward.

That enabled Ned Amos, who owns North Park Place Development, to buy two four-family houses for $5,000 each and convert them into two-family houses.

The gut rehabs cost $85,000 for each family unit. He hopes to target buyers who must live in the city, such as firefighters and police officers.

Microdevelopers face other hurdles, including obtaining funding from banks that are wary about rehabbing houses in these neighborhoods. Small-scale developers also must ensure that they have the know-how to take on the more-challenging aspects of such projects.

"Some of this is common sense. A developer has to know what's behind the walls, and it's hard to know what you're going to encounter, especially in a gut rehab," said Jerry King, president of RJK Inc., which is part of the Gaslight Square redevelopment.

Microdevelopers and their larger brethren throughout the city have been able to take advantage of historic tax credits.

Mark Benckendorf quit his job at Anheuser-Busch Cos. after 17 years to restore houses on the city's historic registry. He owns Historic Home Renovators LLC, which uses a dozen contractors to complete the work.

Most houses he rehabs are in the Benton Park neighborhood. Benckendorf said the only way he can make a profit is through the historic tax credits.

"We might put $200,000 of qualifying expenditures into property that will translate into a $50,000 tax credit to the developer," he said. "The intent there is to put all of the equity back into the property to improve the neighborhood and the house as much as we can."

In the 3100 block of Lemp Avenue, Benckendorf bought a dilapidated house from a private owner for $35,000 - "the worst house on the block," he said.

The 118-year-old structure was a gut rehab, and Benckendorf added touches such as cherry-wood floors and marble mantles in the living room and dining room.

He said it sold in December for $287,000. "That home had been inhabited by pigeons for 10 years, and we turned it into the best house on the block. We raised the profile of that section of Benton Park to one of the better neighborhoods around."

Tim Vogt, vice president of Millennium Restoration & Development Inc., said microdevelopers invest "a lot of sweat equity" in their projects. At 25, he used a loan from his mother, Claire Vogt, to buy his first property, a boarded-up three-story house in the 2900 block of South Compton Avenue in the Tower Grove East neighborhood.

Vogt and a carpenter stripped much of the woodwork by hand and replastered the walls. He used contractors to complete the electrical rewiring and sewer work.

Vogt said he broke even by selling the house for $195,000. The first house jump-started his company. Six years later, Millennium has 13 employees, and he hopes to average 20 rehabs a year, starting this year.

"Our homes have stabilized neighborhoods in some areas," Vogt said. "You see the neighbors doing more landscaping and improving their homes. It's encouraged more rehabs and development in areas that other developers looked over."

Reporter: Tavia Evans
E-mail: tevans@post-dispatch.com
Phone: 314-340-8159

 

 

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The April issue of St. Louis Magazine had two stories that related back to Benton Park. 

 

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Return of a St. Louis Legend

Most of St. Louis visitors make it a point to visit the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, never realizing that just blocks away is the old home of the Lemp Brewery.

St. Louis hasn't tasted Lemp beer, the first America larger, since Prohibition shut down the once-massive empire, but three local beer aficionados - Jim Schulte, Nick Riggio Jr. and Steve DeBellis - have started the new Lemp Brewing Compnay and resurrected Lemp Lager, which was Lemp's flagship brew.

Schulte, Riggio and DeBellis embarked on a cross-country, brewery-hopping, beer-tasting road trip in search of a brew master that could due justice to the Lemp label.  They found what they were looking for in the Lion Brewery of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., which brews and bottles Lemp St. Louis Lager.  The beer is distributed by Missouri Beverage Co. of St. Louis and become availble throughout the metro area in February.                          - Stefanie Carton

 

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Up-and-Coming

Just east of Jefferson Avenue and directly west across the Interest 55 from the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Benton Park was named a federal historic district in 1985.  Like Soulard, its northeastern neighbor, Bento Park offers visitors clues to its heritage via its architecture - a stylistic range of structures from Victorian mansions and town houses to multifamily dwellings and commercial buildings with the rich detailing, sturdiness and flair that are characteristic of 19th century construction.

The real estate market ranges from a selection of shells and yet-to-be-restored buildings to partially renovated structures to finished homes, typical of an evolving urban residential environment.  Recently rehabbed 19th century single-family homes continue to attract a demographically diverse mix of young homeowners, professionals, immigrants and artists.  And the area's intangible elements provide the personality and energy for the growth of Benton Park as a contributing St. Louis neighborhood.

Center of gravity: Benton Park itself, which is fronted on all sides by well-kept Victorian mansions.

This last article put Benton Park in the company with Afton, Hazelwood, Old North St. Louis, Shaw and Washington Avenue.