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Hampton Gardens apartments will pay more to occupy site

NORTHAMPTON – It seemed to be a deal a renter could love. Ever since 1950, the city leased 32 acres just north of Tilles Park for $100 a year to a company that put hundreds of apartments on the property.

That is going to change, after the Board of Aldermen voted Friday to give final approval to extend the lease period by 50 years and raise the yearly payment to $165,000. Under the terms of the lease, the rental amount would increase to $209,000 by 2070. 

Overall, this deal is a win for the city, Hampton Gardens residents and the property manager,” said Tyson Pruitt, a spokesman for Comptroller Darlene Green.

“The new terms were submitted after an appraisal was done on the property, which informed the rent change and will bring in new revenue for the city,” Pruitt wrote. “The deal also allows the lessee to make some welcome improvements to the property.”

A spokeswoman for the owner, Draper & Kramer Management, declined comment.

The 75-year $100-a-year lease period was to end in 2025, but the owners of the apartment complex needed to extend it to make improvements. Draper & Kramer has the option to extend the lease after 2070 by 25 years and then by another 24 years. It also has an option to purchase in 2050.

A check of news articles published at the time of the original deal showed little controversy over the cost to lease the land for what would become the Hampton Gardens Apartments. Then-Alderman Carl Guetschow, who represented the area, said there should have been more bids for the land, a municipal potter’s field that the mayor called an eyesore. And many expressed their distrust for the idea by expressing worry that it would attract the wrong elements.

“I wasn’t around back then to set it,” 10th Ward Alderman Joseph Vollmer, who represents the area of the apartment complex, said, when asked why the rental fee was so low.

To be sure, the city got more than $100 a year in rent, but payment in lieu of taxes on the land and property taxes on any buildings or improvements. In 2019, the owner paid $85,291. It would continue to pay taxes on improvements under the new lease.

The city approved the deal the same year a census showed the population was at an all-time high – 856,796. St. Louis was filling up and needed more homes for its inhabitants.

On March 24, 1950, the St. Louis Star-Times reported that 50 people had gathered the night before to protest a bill then in the Board of Aldermen to lease a tract bounded by Hampton, Fyler and Scanlan avenues to the Hampton Gardens Apartments Inc. for 75 years. 

“At a special meeting of the Lindenwood Improvement Association in Lindenwood School, the residents charged the proposed multiple housing development would turn the residential neighborhood into a future slum area,” the Star-Times said.

The group’s vice president, James R. Appel, said with alarm that the “proposed density of population would be completely out of line with the neighborhood and would be a burden on such services as schools and playgrounds.”

The chief promoters of the project were listed as St. Louis insurance industry executive Sidney Salomon Jr., and William Zeckendorf, a New York City real estate man. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said that Zeckendorf “represents the Rockefeller interests in plans for a negro housing project in the Grand-Laclede-Jefferson area.”

Guetschow said that he had received hundreds of petitions opposing the bill and that he believed the tract belonged to the citizens and not to “the mayor, the board or the promoters.”

But then-Mayor Joseph Darst pushed hard and won. 

Afterward, Darst told the Board of Aldermen that the project would bring the city more than $100,000 a year in taxes.

“This unsightly acreage, which contains a dump and has been a blemish on the community for years, will be transformed into a model community, with winding streets, play areas and healthful homes for 500 families,” Darst said.

Since then, things have worked out pretty well for the apartment complex, Vollmer said.

“It’s been exemplary through all the years,” Vollmer said. “It’s very affordable as far as the people who live there.”

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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