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Lawyers Calling Webster Groves Home

St. Louis Daily Record & St. Louis Countian,
Jul 7, 2008
by Heather Cole

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are moving into Webster Groves.

Three years ago, there were no attorneys on East Lockwood Avenue, according to Brian McLain, broker and owner of RealtyNET McLain, Realtors. Now there are four personal injury firms in one block of East Lockwood, due in large part to the efforts of McLain and Jim Onder, a partner with plaintiffs’ firm Onder, Shelton, O’Leary & Peterson.

Onder, who calls real estate a “hobby,” touts Webster Groves as an answer to a Clayton or downtown office, citing the suburb’s central location, relatively quick trips to either Clayton or downtown courts and “user-friendly” proximity to restaurants in the Old Webster business district. “It’s a nice comfortable place to come,” Onder said.

Onder has been putting his money where his mouth is. He and McLain started out on Lockwood with the 2004 purchase of 110 E. Lockwood for $490,000. After a nearly $5 million redevelopment, they moved both their businesses in. At the beginning of the year, they leased part of the first floor to plaintiffs’ firm Fox & Vuylsteke.

On July 1, Spencer Farris became the latest personal injury attorney to set up shop on the stretch of East Lockwood east of Webster Groves City Hall. Farris (who is an occasional columnist for the Daily Record) launched the S.E. Farris Law Firm at 116 E. Lockwood in a building purchased from McLain’s and Onder’s real estate investment company MCO.

The purchase price wasn’t immediately available. MCO Investments bought the building for $430,000 in 2005, according to St. Louis County real estate records.

Farris hopes to lease some of the 4,100 square-foot building, now occupied by his firm and the campaign office of Steve Eagleton, a Democratic candidate for state senator. Onder already was rustling up prospective tenants for the building before Farris even closed on its purchase, Farris said. “He convinced me it’s an up-and-coming area for plaintiffs’ lawyers,” Farris said.

In addition to the attractions mentioned by Onder, Webster Groves also offers no-cost parking, McLain said. Attorneys move in because of the professional environment, and they want to own because they often don’t see the point of spending money on a lease, McLain said. “If I had 10 buildings, I could probably sell half of them to attorneys,” McLain said.

Onder may have brought three firms to the area, but Robert Goldson of The Goldson Law Firm takes credit for being the first attorney to move into the block, paying $186,000 for 130 E. Lockwood in 2003 and moving in after spending $100,000 on renovations. The office is two blocks from Goldson’s house. “I tried Clayton and it was just easier to be closer here,” Goldson said. “We have two small children, one 7, one 3. Lifestyle-wise, it made sense.”

With the rent from an office and an upstairs apartment, the building runs on a break-even basis, Goldson said. However, ownership has tax benefits, and the building’s value appreciates. “There’s some small advantage to having it, that’s why you do it, especially if you’re a personal injury lawyer and have some extra cash around from a big settlement of a case,” Goldson said. “You could go buy an expensive car, or buy a building. The sensible thing is to buy a building.”

Onder and McLain are banking on other attorneys using the same logic in plans to bring more attorneys into another area of Webster Groves. The developers are working with the city government on a plan to develop two 6,000-square-foot buildings and two 8,000- square-foot building on the southwest corner of Kirkham and Thornton avenues at a cost of about $7 million.

Their target market includes attorneys, who could purchase a whole building, buy part of a building as an office condominium, or take on a 10-year lease and get an ownership interest. “We’re flexible and willing to work with lawyers to bring them to Webster Groves,” Onder said.

Onder has a few other real estate irons in the fire, as well. He and McLain own another building on East Lockwood. The building at 122 E. Lockwood, purchased for $435,000 in 2005, is slated to become a Dewey’s Pizza pending approval by the Webster Groves City Council.

Onder also has been buying up properties on six and a half acres at Elm Avenue and Kirkham in hopes of redeveloping the property into offices and office condos. Onder Properties owns 10 properties in the area, according to real estate records. Six of the properties were purchased since 2003 for a total of nearly $400,000. Sales prices weren’t available for the remaining four, but they have a total appraised value of $226,000, according to the real estate records.

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