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Jefferson Park, Portage Park

A Petition Battle Is On As Rival Bidders Try To Buy Old Jefferson Park Firehouse To Build A Brewery

A developer has the alderman's approval to move Lake Effect Brewing into the old firehouse, but the Copernicus Center wants the building, too.

Rendering of plans for the brewery taproom and new apartments at 4841 N. Lipps Ave.
Ambrosia Homes
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JEFFERSON PARK — A developer with plans to bring Lake Effect Brewing Company to a former firehouse in Jefferson Park is launching a campaign to get the city to complete the deal before a rival can unravel it.

Ambrosia Homes launched a website detailing its long-running plan and who supports it. It also directs people to an online petition to show their support and provides the wording of support letters that can be sent to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and all 50 members of the City Council. The phone numbers and email addresses to send the notes are listed.

The campaign comes as the nonprofit Copernicus Center is trying to convince the city to accept its rival plan for the old firehouse at 4841 N. Lipps Ave. and reject Ambrosia’s.

Ambrosia Homes, a Chicago-based developer headed by Tim Pomaville, says the last obstacle to buying the long-closed former firehouse is City Council approval, which may come later this month. 

The city has agreed in principle to sell the vacant firehouse to Ambrosia for $1 and in return, the development company says Lake Effect will open a brewery and restaurant in the first floor and will build 9 rental loft apartments on the floors above. Pomaville said the approval should be a formality, citing the fact that the city already approved a zoning change required for the plan and gotten a letter of support from the wards’ alderman, Jim Gardiner (45th).

“I think it’s going to get approved. The City Council has already approved a zoning change for it, so, why would they approve a zoning change and not approve that?” Pomaville said.

He added that although the city would be selling it to Ambrosia, the company has agreed to cover the costs of lead paint remediation, which he estimated at $200,000. In total, Pomaville said the development should cost $2.4 million and would generate much needed revenue for the city.

“The sales tax from a brewery can be like $100,000 a year. That’s significant,” Pomaville said. He added that he estimated the lofts would take a year to build while the brewery should be ready in a matter of months.

Despite the support of Gardiner and the zoning change that has already been approved, another entity is holding out hope that it can buy it instead.

The Copernicus Center, located just a half-block from the firehouse, made an offer to buy the firehouse for $300,000 but was rejected in September. Their plan also included opening up a brewery on the first floor and developing four apartments above it.

In a letter to Copernicus Center executive director Kamilia Sumelka, Department of Housing officials wrote that the proposed plan was “incomplete insofar as it did not include a timetable for redevelopment for the property.”

Since then, the Copernicus Center has also started its own online petition and is holding out hope the city will reject the Ambrosia Plan and reconsider their plan. Reached Tuesday, Stephen Cioromski, a member of the Copernicus Center Advisory Board, said the city’s decision to reject their offer doesn’t make sense to him.

“We are saying that we’d pay for the remediation and give them $300,000. No one is telling us why they are going with the other option and frankly, it’s confusing the hell out of me,” Cioromski said.

Department of Housing officials did not respond to emails and calls for comment on Tuesday.

As for their plan being incomplete, Cioromski said the reason the Copernicus Center did not have a timeline in its proposal is because they have not been able to get inside the building to inspect it for themselves. Asked why they would offer $300,000 for a building they were not able to get inside, Cioromski said the location was the thing that most attracted them to the building.

Cioromski said that the Copernicus Plan is similar to the Ambrosia plan, but that Ambrosia has more residential units because they would add a third floor. As for who would run the brewery and restaurant planned for the first floor, he would only say it would be a “Chicago-based brewery.”

“We plan to keep it a two-story building, restore the original facade and have four apartments on the second floor.”

Cioromski added that the fact that the Copernicus Center is offering $300,000 should be more attractive to the city, especially considering its budget woes.

“With everything going on in the city with their budget talks, it happens to be a perfect storm in our favor,” he said.

But Pomaville speculated that the city is favoring his company because he has letters from lenders indicating their willingness to loan him the money to complete the project, and said the city may have concerns about the financial health of the Copernicus Center.

“I think the city believes they don’t have any money right now. They haven’t had shows because of the pandemic and they also have a GoFundMe to raise money for the roof of their building. So, how can they take on a huge project when they don’t even have the money for a roof on a building they own?” Pomaville wondered.

Indeed, a check online shows there is an active GoFundMe campaign for a new roof that has a $250,000 goal. In three months, they have raised $560 towards it.

However, Cioromski said as a nonprofit, the fact that Copernicus has a campaign to replace its roof is no indication of the organization’s financial health.

“They’ve been trying to bring that up for awhile. We’re a nonprofit, so our main goal is to raise money for all of our projects. It’s nothing out of the ordinary and the financial statements we submitted with our application show that we have more than enough capital to purchase the firehouse and do all the renovations.”