Neighbors mostly embraced a proposal Thursday night to transform a vacant 112-year-old firehouse into a brewery taproom with added upstairs apartments next to the Jefferson Park Transit Center.
Developer Tim Pomaville asked to buy the property from the city, whose stewardship of the plot at 4841 N. Lipps Avenue dates back to 1874. Pomaville’s company, Ambrosia Homes, requested a zoning change from B3-2 to C1-3 in order to build an extra two floors atop the existing two-story building, sitting nine new apartments above the taproom.
Clint Bautz, the founder and owner of Lake Effect Brewing, was greeted by roaring applause when he stepped before the more than 100 residents who packed into the nearby Copernicus Center for Thursday’s meeting.
Bautz set up shop in 2011 in a hidden brick warehouse appending an industrial park at 4727 W. Montrose Avenue. His team now brews more than a dozen beers, including the 45th Ward Pale Ale, brewed with hops grown in Jefferson Park.
“We’re getting pretty packed in that space, and we’ve now gotten thousands of people who walk down to the end of this alley just to see us,” Bautz said. “So now that we’re growing, we’d really like to get to a better location.”
Bautz pointed to Begyle Brewing Company in Ravenswood and Alarmist Brewing in Sauganash as models for the new space, adding that the expansion would likely mean doubling his staff. He would keep the Montrose location for barrel-aging and storage, he said. Bautz’s plan leaves about 800 square feet for indoor seating, plus an outdoor patio space.
The upstairs apartments would measure about 1,000 square feet each, and Pomaville expects to rent them around $2,000 per month, he said. A cost hasn’t been set for the project, but Pomaville plans to sink at least $2 million into the plan. Even after he buys the property from the city, the developer is anticipating a gut-level renovation to strip away a “ton of water damage” incurred in the five years the building has sat idle.
The proposal calls to sit a decorative triangular pediment above the fourth-floor roof, similar to the flourish built onto the original firehouse in 1906.
But the developer added that he may also tweak the plan by setting back the additional floors, clearly marking where the old building ends and the new construction begins — a suggestion offered by members of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society.
The firehouse will sit in the shadow of Jefferson Place, a 16-story retail and residential project currently awaiting construction permits at 4849 N. Lipps Avenue.
Neighborhood organizer Bob Bank, who had been one of the fiercest and most vocal opponents of the Jefferson Place proposal, sat with a handful of allies Thursday holding signs that read “No Extra Floors” and “Save our historic firehouse.”
Bank asked why 45th Ward Alderman John Arena and city planners arranged a direct sale instead of opening up a Request for Proposals, saying the latter would have “put it out there for all offers.”
“Obviously Lake Effect is popular here tonight, but we don’t need these extra apartments,” Bank said. “I think it bastardizes the whole historic appeal of the building.”
Developer Hubert Cioromski, president of Troy Realty, had proposed a ground-floor restaurant for the space with six apartments on top, but Arena rejected the plan and requested more residential space, Cioromski said.
“Hubert’s proposal was viable, but we felt [Lake Effect] was a local operator,” Arena said during the meeting. “We wanted to make sure Jefferson Park development was done by Jefferson Park folks we could be proud of, and this is a home-grown operation.”
Arena added that opening a Request for Proposals would have made it more likely for the city to side with a developer who wanted to demolish the building and replace it, an option he said would be “much cheaper.”