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Friday, April 14, 2017

Renovation of Military Homes In Seattle Could Signal Success for VA Homes in Fort Thomas

One of the historic VA Homes. FTM file. 
It's been 16 years since the last military officers lived in the homes on Alexander Circle, now known affectionately or otherwise as the VA Homes in Fort Thomas.

The ten homes were built in the 1890's and housed officers before shipping them off to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War. It's housed soldiers and employees of the Veteran's Affairs after.

The price to buy the homes has been set at $510,000. The city will buy them from VA officials, help facilitate the removal of the asbestos and lead paint and then transfer them to Cincinnati-based developer Bloomfield/Schon + Partners. The plan is to renovate the homes and sell them individually to private owners.

RELATED: City Selects Preferred Developer To Progress Stalled VA Homes Project 

Will it all work out?

Well, you can look to the success of the redevelopment of a similar situation in Seattle suburb, Fort Lawton called Discovery Park. Twenty-six military homes went for sale in 2015. The similarities are eerily close to the redevelopment in Fort Thomas.

In Fort Lawton, newly renovated century-old homes are in the middle of a 500-acre city park on the shores of Puget Sound. Photo: Amber Fouts for The Wall Street Journal
Those homes, originally built for military officers and their families in 1900, were renovated in stages by a private developer, after being obtained by the City of Seattle from the Navy. Officer’s Row is situated on a ridgeline that overlooks the former parade grounds within the Historic District of Fort Lawton, similar to Fort Thomas overlooking the Ohio River. Once a strategic U.S. military installation, the 534 acres was turned over to the city of Seattle in 1973 to become Discovery Park. Approximately nine acres of land and 26 homes were carved out of the park for redevelopment and individual homeownership.

Architects and interior designers worked with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board to maintain each home’s iconic Colonial-Revival architecture and other historic attributes.

The homes on Officer’s Row offer between 4,027 and 6,600 square feet of living space. Each home has received seismic upgrades, new roofs and all-new electrical and plumbing, as well as artfully inspired kitchen and bathroom renovations.

The appetite had been building in Discovery Park since they obtained the land, much like in Fort Thomas. So what did they sell for?

                                       Photo: Amber Fouts for The Wall Street Journal
A bidding process and waiting list was established with a starting price of $799,000 for a 1,674-square-foot, three-story town home. They were sold one at a time as the developer finished them. The prospect of owning a home in Seattle’s largest park, a destination on most Seattle visitor guides, was expected to generate interest from buyers around the world.

And they did. The first 13-homes sold at fast pace after more than 2,000 would-be buyers  preregistered on the project’s marketing site. Sale prices went for well above the starting price, with an average sale price of $1.1 million.

The developer expanded kitchens, finished the basements and installed modern electrical, plumbing and heating systems as well as wiring for high-speed Internet. Every home’s powder room has unique wallpaper, and there are quirky fireplaces. For construction work on each home, the company spent an average $200,000 in Montana Circle and $400,000 in Officer’s Row.

In Fort Thomas, there will be a few more obstacles to overcome because the infrastructure is still somewhat of an unknown. Utilities are assumed to be lacking which looms large for the developer. Add in the fact that the homes have severely decayed because of the lack of occupancy and there are a few differences in the two situations, which is reflected in the price the VA is offering Fort Thomas.

In Fort Lawton, there are only six of the 26 homes left which went for sale in February. Those range from a four-bedroom, three-bathroom, 4,000-square-foot Prosch floor plan offered at $2 million, to the “Grand Dame” Ellicott floor plan, featuring six bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms and 6,278 square feet of living space, and offered at $2.9 million.

                                        Photo: Amber Fouts for The Wall Street Journal.
All 26 homes will be part of a master association that governs the Homes at Fort Lawton and will be responsible for maintenance and landscaping of common areas. The developer estimates the monthly dues initially at $400 per home, but it could vary based on the home’s size.

To create a sense of community, he said, buyers will be restricted from flipping the property within the first year of ownership. The association’s governing documents also will require that any rentals be long-term.

Details like this are still hypotheticals in Fort Thomas, but the success coupled with the enthusiasm of city officials certainly makes you dream.

This story will be updated.

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