The party invitation promised a New Year’s Eve “fantasy of the damned” in which revelers were to come dressed as their favorite victim or villain. Well over 100 guests answered the call, converging on a mansion high on a bluff on St. Paul’s West Side to enjoy an open bar, a gourmet buffet, live music, DJs, murder-mystery theme rooms and dancing into the wee hours of Jan. 1, 2018.
By all accounts, Scott Kramer’s gathering at the historic Dearing Mansion, his bed-and-breakfast at 241 George St. W., was fun, raucous and epic. And that’s now his problem.
Staging a murder-mystery party, it turns out, may kill Kramer’s business.
Twice previously, Kramer had been told by city officials responding to neighbor complaints that he could not host public gatherings or events at the mansion he bought in 2005 and meticulously restored. His conditional-use permit as a B&B allows him to have no more than two guests in each of the mansion’s six bedrooms.
When news of the New Year’s Eve party reached City Hall, officials notified Kramer that his permit is now in jeopardy. Kramer said the party was a private affair, but admits that the invitation that was posted and shared on social media makes it look suspect.
“If they take it away,” Kramer said about the permit, “I’ll definitely have to sell.”
That would be a shame, said St. Paul historian Jim Sazevich. He credits Kramer with bringing the 1886 mansion built by well-to-do St. Paul dairy farmer Sam Dearing back to its gilded glory.
“He is a genuinely good guy, proud of the house and proud of the work he’s done,” said Sazevich, who was at Kramer’s New Year’s Eve party two years ago.
Kramer never intended to get into the B&B business. He and his wife bought the house more than a decade ago, intending to live there for the rest of their lives. They paid $450,000 and began an 11-month renovation, lovingly restoring its nine fireplaces and intricate ceiling molding. He estimates he spent $275,000 on the renovation and another $25,000 since, including updating the wiring and plumbing and replacing several large and gorgeous stained-glass windows.
Kramer, who has 37 years experience as a residential remodeling contractor, restored or replicated much of the home’s woodwork — composed of 11 types of wood, including mahogany and cherry.
“It was overwhelming,” he said. “It was a mess.”
When Kramer and his wife split in 2013, he said he realized it was too much house for one person. Operating it as a bed-and-breakfast was a way to keep the house and pay its not-insignificant bills, he said. In October 2014, he was granted a conditional-use permit.
But, almost immediately, he ran afoul of the rules. In May 2015, St. Paul’s Safety & Inspections staff received a complaint that Kramer was hosting parties and renting and advertising the home’s six bedrooms. His permit allowed him to rent out only four.
In March 2016, after being ordered to comply with the requirements of his permit, Kramer agreed to do so, city officials said.
However, later that summer, officials said they received another complaint that he was again hosting parties. The city Planning Commission was notified and, in January 2017, it modified Kramer’s permit to allow six bedrooms to be used but specified that no weddings, retreats, corporate gatherings or parties could take place. If he did so, officials said, he would risk revocation of his permit.
Kramer said the conditions have put more than a bit of a damper on the mansion’s business — he occasionally rents the whole house out but averages one to two guests per week year-round — but he has stuck to them.
He said the New Year’s Eve party was meant only for friends, acquaintances and “collaborators.” The event advertisement was shared by fans of the DJs who were to work that night, he said. Admission was charged to recover costs, Kramer said, but the general public was not invited.
“The ad makes it look like we rented the house to a third party, but that’s not what happened,” Kramer said, acknowledging that combining a social media ad with charging admission “was a mistake.”
A city hearing is scheduled for March 29.