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Benton Park West predicted to be next 'boomtown

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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.

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