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Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Norwood Park

Lake Effect Brewing Won’t Open Taproom In Jeff Park Firehouse After Years Of Delays, Heading To Avondale Instead

After six years of planning, Lake Effect Brewing's owner said he couldn't wait any longer for construction to start on the historical firehouse. The taproom is slated to open in Avondale early next year.

The historical Jefferson Park forehouse at 4841 N. Lipps Ave., was built in 1906 but has long sat vacant. Two murals by Northwest Side artist Cyd Smilie promoting Lake Effect's move into the space are painted on the garage doors as seen June 22, 2022.
Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
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JEFFERSON PARK — Lake Effect Brewing Company’s planned move to a historic Jefferson Park firehouse has been scrapped, but the Northwest Side-based brewer still plans to open a taproom nearby.

Lake Effect Brewing partnered with developer Ambrosia Homes in 2016 with plans to open its first taproom and kitchen on the ground floor of a vacant firehouse at 4841 N. Lipps Ave. Last year, City Council agreed to sell the firehouse, built in 1906, to Ambrosia Homes as part of its $1 land sale program. Ambrosia paid $208,000 to the city, which used the money for remediation reimbursement. Nine rental loft apartments were planned on the floors above.

The $2.4 million development was scheduled to be completed by this summer, but the city has been slow to approve needed permits, said Tim Pomaville, Ambrosia’s president.

The location was approved for a zoning change in 2020 and a liquor sales ban was lifted along the street last year, but with the clock ticking on Lake Effect’s current space at 4727 W. Montrose Ave., brewery owner Clint Bautz couldn’t wait any longer, he said.

The brewery’s lease is up at the end of the year, and the timeline for the firehouse project remains uncertain. Mary Hickey Panayotou, owner of Chicago Costume and Lake Effect’s landlord, said she has plans for the space when Lake Effect leaves but declined to share more information.

After looking at several empty buildings along the Northwest Side that had the correct zoning and liquor moratorium rules, Lake Effect secured an Avondale storefront this month and plans to move operations in the next few months, Bautz said.

Bautz announced the news in a newsletter to subscribers and told Block Club Monday that letting go of the firehouse is “bittersweet,” especially considering the community push for the project over the course of six years.

“it’s bittersweet because it’s been [more than] five years,” Bautz said. “Maybe if there wasn’t a pandemic,” things would have run smoother, he said.

Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
The historical Jefferson Park firehouse at 4841 N. Lipps Ave., was built in 1906 but has long sat vacant. A mural by Northwest Side artist Cyd Smilie promoting Lake Effect’s move into the space adorns one of the garage doors as seen June 22, 2022.

The sale of the property to Ambrosia almost hit a snag in 2020 when the nonprofit Copernicus Center, which is down the block from the firehouse, launched an unsuccessful bid to buy the property. 

In response, Ambrosia launched a website detailing its long-running plan and directing people to sign a petition to show their support for the project.

Kamila Sumelka, executive director of the Copernicus Center at 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., said it’s a shame that Lake Effect will no longer be taking over the firehouse but that there are “absolutely no hard feelings” between the center and the business.

She said she hopes whatever retail business moves into the ground floor space of the firehouse will benefit the neighborhood by increasing the area’s foot traffic and positively affecting nearby businesses and residents.

“We want the neighborhood to thrive and be the place to be … but I’m glad they found a home,” Sumelka said.

‘We Are In The Driver’s Seat’

While the decision was a tough call, Bautz is looking forward to opening its first taproom in Avondale, he said.

Although it will not offer food — Gladstone Park’s North Branch Fried Chicken was slated to operate the firehouse brewery’s kitchen — Bautz hopes that he can partner with other Northwest Side restaurants from time to time.

Bautz would not disclose the address of the Avondale tap room, but said it’s a one-story corner building on a busy street that will feature an indoor tasting room and an outdoor beer garden.

“It’s a simpler type of project … and will be an easy move,” he said. “We are in the driver’s seat and have regained control [of our expansion]. It’s a major relief.”

Pomaville said the firehouse development is still moving forward despite delays. He is waiting for the city to approve small rendering changes and hopes construction can begin later this summer.

The developer will add a third floor to the firehouse for apartments, which needs to be completed before any work can begin on the ground floor, he said.

“We’re still very bullish on the project [and] will be looking for a new tenant, like a restaurant or brewery,” Pomaville said. “It’s a neat location that’s close to the Copernicus Center … it will bring life that will benefit everybody.”

If construction can begin later this summer, tenants could move into the apartments by summer 2023, he said.

Bautz’s wife, an architect, is designing the Avondale taproom. He hopes to move brewery operations in the coming months and open early next year, pending city inspections and permits.

Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
The back of the historic Jefferson Park firehouse at 4841 N. Lipps Ave., as seen on June 22, 2022. It was built in 1906 but has long sat vacant.

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