Metro-East News

What will happen to the Belleville houses Lindenwood owns once students are gone?

File video: Lindenwood University-Belleville news surprises students

Lindenwood University announced on May 13, 2019, that it would be consolidating daytime undergraduate academic programs from its Belleville campus to St. Charles, Missouri, surprising many students and athletes.
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Lindenwood University announced on May 13, 2019, that it would be consolidating daytime undergraduate academic programs from its Belleville campus to St. Charles, Missouri, surprising many students and athletes.

Belleville residents who live in the neighborhoods near Lindenwood University-Belleville students raised concerns about increased crime and declining property values after the college announced that daytime undergraduate programs will be eliminated.

Lindenwood bought over 50 houses and apartment buildings in the area around the campus at 2600 W. Main St. and the houses were modified as mini-dormitories for students. The college said Monday that next school year will be the last one for day classes on the Belleville campus.

“The neighborhood improved drastically when they moved in. I’m still a firm believer in that,” said Jamie Williams, who lives at the corner of 20th and West A streets near Lindenwood-owned homes. “It’s a shame to see them go. My greatest fear is that they revert back to what they were before Lindenwood came. It was just a bad neighborhood. There was lots of crime, lots of vagrants and things like that.”

Williams initially was opposed to the plan of students living in his neighborhood but he completely reversed his opinion a few years ago after meeting with the students near his brick home, which is about 111 years old.

Dianne Rogge, who lives down the street from Williams in the 2000 block of West A Street, has criticized the way the city allowed the number of the students it did on her street.

Rogge said she never had a problem with those renting houses on her block before Lindenwood bought seven of them to accommodate students. She still is friends with several people who lived in three rental homes before they were purchased by Lindenwood. She also said she didn’t have a problem with the idea of living next to college students.

“It was the number of students and the lack of responsibility from the college,” said Rogge, who lives with Mike Buettner, who was an alderman for the neighborhood but did not win re-election on April 2.

File video: Lindenwood University-Belleville neighbor Jamie Williams talks about his skeptical outlook on his new neighbors and how he now believes it has helped turned the neighborhood around for the better.

“It’s sad they shoved this down our throats without doing any checking,” Rogge said. “They didn’t look out for the residents. The taxpaying residents are the ones that were screwed in this whole situation.”

Rogge said her property value has decreased since Lindenwood purchased houses in her neighborhood and she fears it will drop further.

In 2011, before Lindenwood bought the homes on her street, she said an appraiser valued her home at $120,000 but it recently was appraised for $79,000 by the same man.

“They’ve already destroyed our property values because they lowballed them when they purchased these homes,” Rogge said. “Now they’re going to be sold out as lowball prices. Again, our property values are going to plummet.”

Rogge, Buettner and other residents previously have complained about late-night student parties where students drink on college-owned property even thought it is a “dry campus” and students parking illegally.

Homes modified

Williams and Rogge both noted that Lindenwood had permission from the city to modify the homes under new rules for student dwellings.

Williams and Rogge said the homes don’t have full kitchens and the common areas such as living rooms and dining rooms in some homes were converted to bedrooms.

“They’ve modified them to house as many students as they could in there. So for a family looking at those, they’re going to have to make a lot of renovations to make it comfortable,” Williams said.

If Lindenwood sells the homes, the sites would return to the property tax rolls because Lindenwood was a private, nonprofit organization that did not have to pay property taxes.

The Belleville City Council in November 2015 approved special-use permits for over 50 homes and apartment buildings owned by Lindenwood. This ruling capped the number of students per home at 10, which was down from the previous maximum of 16.

Neighborhood outlook

For Noah Bruemmer, who lives on the same West A Street block as Rogge, one word came to mind after he heard about Lindenwood’s announcement: “Trepidation.”

“The manner in which we’ve gotten to this point is not a course of option that I would have liked to go down, but the city and the university kind of made our beds for us …,” Bruemmer said. “Love’em or hate’em, they’re here and they’re our neighbors. This is not something that I think anybody wants to see happen in their neighborhood.”

Bruemmer said he was not surprised to hear that Lindenwood said it was losing $2.5 million to $3 million a year on the Belleville campus it established in 2003.

“There was something that wasn’t working right and this is an opportunity to get it right going forward,” he said. “That’s my big hope, that this isn’t a mass pullout, that they’re going to take a step back. They’re going to try to learn some lessons from what went wrong. They’re going to evaluate what went right and they’re going to come back into Belleville, hopefully, a lot stronger.

“I’m stuck with them for the moment. I would be much happier to see them succeed than fail.”

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.