Copernicus offers $300,000 for former Jefferson Park firehouse that city wants to sell for $1
by BRIAN NADIG
It is not clear if the city will continue with its current plan to sell for $1 the former Jefferson Park firehouse at 4837 N. Lipps Ave. now that the Copernicus Foundation is offering to pay $300,000 for the 114-year-old structure.
The foundation operates the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., which is located 1/4 a block from the firehouse. Acquiring the firehouse would allow for the center to expand its campus footprint, which includes the former Gateway Theater and the former Wonar automatic screw manufacturing facility, according to foundation officials.
“For more than 40 years the Copernicus Foundation has been a boost to the vitality of the Jefferson Park neighborhood. This expansion will allow the Copernicus Foundation to strengthen its roots as a cultural community center in the neighborhood,” the foundation said in a statement. The foundation added that its experience of preserving the historic Gateway makes it a good fit to restore the decorative facade of the firehouse.
Under the foundation’s proposal, the firehouse would remain two stories, with a 3,710-square-foot restaurant/brewpub on the ground floor and four apartments on the second floor. An outdoor dining area would be located in the front and rear of the building, and a recreational deck for the apartment tenants would be located on the roof. The name of the restaurant has not been released.
In addition, the firehouse would remain two stories and no balconies would be installed in order to better preserve the original look of the building, according to foundation officials.
Proceeds from rental income generated from the firehouse would go toward the foundation’s cultural mission, and acquiring the property would ensure that the site could be incorporated into the festival grounds for the Copernicus Center’s annual “Taste of Polonia,” officials said. The “Taste of Polonia” is usually held over Labor Day weekend but this year it has been canceled due to the pandemic.
Earlier this summer the Community Development Commission approved selling the property for $1 to developer Timothy Pomaville of Ambrosia Homes, but the negotiated sale process requires the city to advertise for “alternative proposals” before finalizing the sale.
Ambrosia’s proposed restoration project includes adding a third floor to the firehouse leasing the ground floor to Lake Effect Brewing, currently at 4727 W. Montrose Ave., and having nine apartments on the upper floors.
The city has also received a second alternative proposal from the Carpenters Union Local 58, which also is offering $1 for the property. The union’s plan calls for restoring the two-story building and using the second floor for offices and leasing the ground floor, possibly to an entity which would complement the area’s Ed Paschke Art Center, 5415 W. Higgins Ave., according to the union’s application.
Under all three offers for the firehouse, the property would return to the tax rolls, generating property tax revenue for the city.
Alderman Jim Gardiner (45th) has voiced support for a zoning change that is required for Pomaville’s proposal but has criticized the decision to sell the parcel for $1, arguing that the price does not make good financial sense the city’s financial struggles. The firehouse has been appraised at $208,000, but the city Department of Planning and Development has said that the $1 sale would be justified due to the lead-based paint remediation required for the restoration of the site.
The Chicago Plan Commission this month was expected to approve Ambrosia’s purchase before sending the matter to the City Council for final approval, but it is not known if the item will be on the commission’s Sept. 17 meeting agenda. Ambrosia has been negotiating with the city for about 3 years.
Meanwhile, the council was expected to approve Pomaville’s zoning request in July, but at the last moment the proposal was pulled from the agenda reportedly due to news that the foundation would be submitting a bid for the property.
“I’m waiting,” Pomaville said last week. “The city has its process.”
Under the union’s bid, it would have its offices, currently at 3545 W. Peterson Ave., relocated to the second floor of the firehouse.
“Local 58 has outgrown our current local union offices located in Peterson Park, and the local union desires to reestablish offices in the Jefferson Park area, an area to which a great number of our members have migrated. We draw a great number of new carpentry trainees and apprentice candidates … from the Jefferson Park area,” its bid stated.
“The young people we recruit are from working families and without vehicles and the transportation hub nearby would help us when we dispatch them to jobs,” the bid also said.
The union said that while an art-related, community work space may be preferred on the ground floor given the union’s nonprofit status, it would not rule out leasing to a brewery.
At a recent zoning hearing, it was reported that the city had conducted a public request for proposals for the firehouse, but it never did, as the planning department several years ago opted to enter negotiations directly with Pomaville at the recommendation of then-alderman John Arena.
Several years ago Troy Realty president Hubert Cioromski, who also is the foundation’s chairman, offered a proposal for the property to Arena, but that proposal was not affiliated with the foundation.