COLUMBIA — Although he doesn't have experience renovating houses as large as the Niedermeyer, the MU math professor who bought the historical building says he's ready for the challenge.
Nakhle Asmar said he wants to make the Niedermeyer building a comfortable and modern place for tenants, while maintaining its historical integrity – a promise he made to Elizabeth Gentry, the great-granddaughter of the the founder of the academy originally housed in the building.
On Tuesday, Mayor Bob McDavid announced that Asmar had reached a deal with Collegiate Housing Partners to buy the 176-year-old building.
And though he wouldn't have considered buying Niedermeyer if not for its historic value, Asmar does not have experience in renovating buildings with intent to maintain their historical integrity. Nor has he tackled a project of this size, he says, though he has done extensive remodeling in about 20 properties he owns in Columbia. He owns a total of 39 rental properties, and a majority are in the central city.
Six of his properties are student apartment buildings, with up to 36 rooms. Although those also required renovation, none of them needed the overhaul the Niedermeyer does, Asmar said. At least 16 of the houses Asmar owns in Columbia were built before 1930, with one dating back to 1900.
In his other properties, he upgraded the plumbing, electrical system, heating, ventilation and air conditioning. A house at Worley Street and Providence Road required almost complete remodeling because it had been abandoned, he said.
Those are the same renovations the Niedermeyer needs, Asmar said.
"I think I have enough experience that I know this project can be done," he said. "And it can be done – and should be done – while completing the historical integrity."
Asmar's properties have been in violation of city code 74 times in the last three years, according to records provided by the Office of Neighborhood Services. The majority of violations involved exterior problems, such as uncut weeds and trash. As of Wednesday, only the two most recent violations were unresolved. More than two-thirds of the violations were resolved within a month.
Asmar said that the number of violations at his properties is a testament to the good work the Office of Neighborhood Services does. He said he doesn't have any issues with tenants.
"When you have 200 tenants, some may be too shy, so they call the neighborhood services," he said.
Four tenants living in Asmar's properties who spoke with the Missourian spoke highly of Asmar as a landlord.
Stacy Letterlough, who has been living in 308 Hirth St. for two years, said he promptly takes care of any problems with the house that she brings up. She was also impressed that he installed a new heating system within a month after she told him her heating bills were high.
"He keeps his word when he says he's going to do something," she said.