JEFFERSON PARK — Far Northwest Side neighbors are disappointed and frustrated after Lake Effect Brewing Company bowed out of plans to open a taproom in a historical neighborhood firehouse, joining a line of businesses pitched for the area that never opened their doors.
Lake Effect announced Tuesday it was abandoning the firehouse project, which began in 2016, due to years of city delays. With its lease up in December, the Old Irving Park business secured a building in Avondale and plans to move operations in the next few months.
“I am disappointed because it seemed like they were going to be a good fit,” Jefferson Park resident Katie Baehring said. “With so many empty storefronts along Milwaukee, [Lake Effect Brewery] could create some momentum and bring activity to the area.”
City Council agreed to sell the firehouse, built in 1906 at 4841 N. Lipps Ave., to Ambrosia Homes last year as part of its $1 land sale program. Ambrosia paid $208,000 to the city, which used the money for remediation reimbursement. Eight rental loft apartments are planned on the floors above.
The $2.4 million development was scheduled to be completed by this summer. Ambrosia President Tim Pomaville said he will resubmit plans to the city once a new tenant is in place.
Some neighbors criticized the city’s approval process and the slow timelines to green light projects like the firehouse, which required a zoning change and a full rehab.
The location was approved for a zoning change in 2020 and a liquor sales ban was lifted along the street last year after the sale was finalized. But selling the building shouldn’t have taken so long in the first place, said Ryan Richter, a Jefferson Park resident and urban planner.
“It took five years for the building to be sold to Tim, who had the money and is a very willing developer,” Richter said. “To me, there is a larger issue around the city’s various bureaucracies, commissions and committees this property had to go through.”
The news is another letdown for neighbors, who have seen multiple proposals for businesses and developments in Jefferson Park never come to fruition. Vacant storefronts and buildings sit along the business corridor, despite unsuccessful revitalization efforts from past leaders.
Philip Schwartz, a Norwood Park resident who owns a real estate company and has worked with Northwest Side building owners, said the number of building vacancies is disheartening. It’s normal to see “for rent” and “for sale” signs that have been up so long the paint is faded, he said.
“We all want more business, but it seems the neighborhood is unprepared,” Schwartz said. “Anytime [a business] disappears, it’s sad … and what business wants to open up when the next three storefronts are empty?”
Ald. Jim Gardiner’s (45th) office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Lake Effect’s proposal also wasn’t the first time a brewery has eyed the area.
In 2017, Pipeworks Brewing Company looked to open its facility at Six Corners, but the owners found a more affordable building in Logan Square, said former Ald. John Arena (45th). In 2018, Indiana-based brewing company Byway Brewing looked to open a taproom at Giddings and Milwaukee, but its team walked away for the same reason: the asking price was too high.
“The track that should be pointed to [for developments] is where else do we need to go to get that movement to start?” Arena said. “The other side of that coin: the reality is … the asking price for properties are not rentable in their current state and not being in the market is the other factor holding us back.”
Some residents said there are possible solutions: more financial support and proposed legislation that would cut tax breaks for landlords who own vacant storefronts. Others said landlords need to lower rent and be more willing to rent properties.
“There are too many people that are not really interested in leasing storefronts,” Richter said. “On one hand, if this neighborhood gentrifies, we could see more development and developers with suitcases full of cash … but then, we sit like some other neighborhoods on … promises that have gone unfilled [and] that does not live up to what residents hope.”
But Richter said another solution is what Pomaville has done with the firehouse: buying a deteriorating property with a plan — and the finances — to make it a neighborhood destination.
“I feel confident because he has put in a lot of work to make that happen,” Richter said.
Since the Lake Effect Brewery news was announced, Pomaville said his phone “has been blowing up.” He’s been showing the space and has received several leads for tenants to take the firehouse’s ground floor.
“Everyone is very positive,” Pomaville said. “I’m keeping the city [informed], and people are aware. Everything is going to be very good.”
Pomaville said he is committed to bringing in a business that has the same spirit as Lake Effect, such as a restaurant, bar or brewery. That makes neighbors like Baehring happy, as they want to see more walkable eateries in the area that can benefit from access to the CTA, she said.
“The adaptive reuse [of the firehouse] is great,” Baehring said. “Whatever tenant can go in next, I hope it can get whatever support they need to move into the space.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: