Talking Shop with John Lichtenegger of Lichtenegger, Weiss & Fetterhoff LLC

Monday, July 12, 2010
John Lichtenegger is a Jackson lawyer and developer. (Fred Lynch)

John Lichtenegger is a Jackson lawyer whose practice of real estate law complements his second job, developer. Since starting in the development business in the late 1970s, he has developed subdivisions and other areas and has seen growth in the Jackson housing market. In 2004 he donated land for the Jackson Senior Center and continues to monitor the center's growth.

Q: How is your law firm doing?

A: My partners, staff and I enjoy the law practice every day. We have a great team of experienced paralegals and assistants that have been together a long time, making our law practice a real joy! The firm consists of eight attorneys and 10 paralegal assistants.

Q: Are you experiencing growth in lawyers or practice areas?

A: Yes. Our law firm, Lichtenegger, Weiss & Fetterhoff LLC, has experienced steady growth over the last decade, which led us to building our new office on East Main Street. We also have offices in Cape Girardeau and Marble Hill, Mo.

Last August, Thad Brady, a University of Illinois graduate, joined the firm and John Loesel, a University of Virginia graduate who clerked with us last year, will join the firm as an associate next month. Scott Lipke joined us "of counsel" until next January, when he becomes a judge.

Practice areas that have grown the most are real estate matters of all kinds, estate planning, workers' compensation and, unfortunately, bankruptcy and credit-related problems.

Q: What is your practice area and what motivated you to concentrate on that aspect of the law?

A: My great love in law is real estate. I enjoy every aspect from real estate contracts, title insurance issues, title problems, roadways, wells, condemnation, agricultural, commercial and residential development. I took every course they had in law school relating to real estate. I started looking at and evaluating real estate while in high school. In college, Keith Cracraft, an architect friend of mine from Jackson, and I started planning apartments for college students. That led to other projects Keith and I developed.

Q: How did you get started in development?

A: When [my wife] Donna and I moved to Jackson after college in 1974, there was no housing available. We bought a wonderful house in Whispering Heights in Fruitland, [since] Donna worked in Perryville, Mo. David and Donna McDowell developed much of the Fruitland area, and I learned a great deal from them. Soon I was representing a number of the great developers in Jackson and the outlying areas.

When Donna and I wanted to move to Jackson in 1978, there still was nothing available. Van Puls and his wife, Pat, were also looking for a house or some land to build a house. Van, Pat, Donna and I bought the George Kimbel house and woods. That was our first subdivision. Out of necessity we sold 12 other lots to our friends and lived there 20 years. The success of Kimbelwoods led me to do other subdivisions and developments.

Q: How do you manage juggling a law practice and land development?

A: Our staff makes everything happen. The law practice and clients come first. My son, Brent, now handles most matters relating to the development and 100 percent of all building in his company, Sterling Construction LLC. Over the years we have had excellent contractors to provide infrastructure and planning. Chris Koehler, a local engineer, and I share a vision of each real estate development. The fact that we have worked so closely makes the planning process exciting and fun. He has taught me volumes in exploring options and concepts, and a large part of our success is due to him and his team.

Q: How has the economy affected development in the area?

A: Lending regulations have really stifled commercial development, so that is very slow right now. Jackson is beginning to see residential housing starts. An expansion in Pioneer Orchards Subdivision is underway. Jackson remains a destination community for many retiring from out-of-state and those who want the convenience the city has to offer.

Q: How do you see Main Street in Jackson developing?

A: Main Street and LaSalle have enormous potential and will develop slowly until the capital markets and lending regulators ease up. East Main Street has very strong covenants that will make this one of the most attractive retail-commercial areas anywhere. A movie theater, fitness center, doctors' clinics and restaurants are all possible on East Main.

Southeast Missouri State University has planned a research and technology village at the junction of Interstate 55, East Main and LaSalle, and as that develops we can expect at least one hotel, restaurants and shops, in addition to fascinating new technology businesses and startup companies.

Q: I understand you donated the land used for the Jackson Senior Center. What motivated you to do that?

A: My father, Melvin Lichtenegger, was my motivation. My dad donated a major portion of his supermarket building as the first senior center in Jackson. Dad worked at the senior center almost every day and I saw how wonderful the experience was. But that location became way overcrowded. In 2004, Chad Hartle told me about $200,000 in grant funds that were available for a senior center if associated with a senior housing project. I spoke with my dad and the senior center's board of directors about the idea. To get the grant, a donation of land, streets and utilities was required to match it. Our family donated land and infrastructure. Chad Hartle, the senior center board, senior foundation board, the city of Jackson and many others put together a plan to secure the grant and raise the additional funds to build the center.

The Southeast Missouri Medical Center Board here in Jackson provided more than $200,000 toward the building. Procter & Gamble and a long list of individuals and businesses made contributions to the building campaign. My dad was chosen to cut the ribbon to open the center on Aug. 25, 2005.

Q: How do you feel about the recent growth of the center?

A: It is wonderful and amazing. The staff, volunteers, board of directors and seniors make this an exciting and fun place. The growth is unbelievable. The center and volunteers are providing almost 200 meals a day at the center and up to 150 meals on wheels each day. The parking areas have been expanded three times, and an expansion addition of 1,300 square feet to the rear of the center is about complete.

Programs on subjects of interest, dancing and other activities make this just a wonderful center for all seniors. The center is also available for use by other groups and the rental income is used solely for the center.

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