Petition launched to stop sale of firehouse for $1
by BRIAN NADIG
The Copernicus Foundation has launched an online petition as part of its continued efforts to buy the former Jefferson Park firehouse, 4841 N. Lipps Ave., which is located about 100 feet from its Copernicus Center campus at 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
The foundation has created a Web site at www.fightforthefirehouse.com where the petition can be signed. It also includes renderings of the foundation’s proposal, the city’s denial letter, the foundation’s response and the center’s history.
About 500 people had signed the petition as of early November.
The city is planning to sell the firehouse to a private developer, Ambrosia Homes, for $1, but Copernicus recently offered $300,000 for the property. The foundation’s proposal calls for restoring the facade of the two-story structure and leasing the ground floor to a restaurant/brewpub and converting the second floor to four apartments, and it claims that its $300,000 offer would cover the annual salary of up to eight city workers, including a library clerk and a data entry operator.
Ambrosia plans to lease the ground floor to Lake Effect Brewing, 4727 W. Montrose Ave. and to add a third floor to allow for a total of nine apartments on the upper two floors.
The building has been appraised at $208,000, but the city Department of Planning and Development has said that the $1 sale is justified due to the high cost of remediation of lead paint in the building.
Copernicus officials have said that they are not seeking a write-down from the city to cover any remediation expenses.
Ambrosia’s plan is supported by the Chicago Plan Commission and Community Development Commission, and the City Council has approved a zoning change to accommodate Ambrosia’s project. Alderman (45th) James Gardiner has expressed concern about selling the property for $1 but has said that he is "not going to stand in the way of a proposal the community has favored" since it was announced 3 years ago by his predecessor, former alderman John Arena.
Copernicus officials maintain that at a Sept. 17 hearing the city Department of Housing misrepresented its proposal and wrongly told plan commission members that the foundation would not be paying property taxes on the firehouse land. They added that the foundation provided the department with financial documents that demonstrate its ability to purchase the building and pay for its restoration.
"The denial reasons (from the housing department) were not accurate and that is why we feel our bid should be re-evaluated. Since there are still numerous steps to be taken before the sale is final, we are asking for your support to block the sale," the foundation said.
The city has been in a "negotiated sale" process with Ambrosia for about 3 years and did not conduct the required request for alternative proposals until last summer.
Carpenters Local 58 also submitted an alternative bid, and in a Sept. 23 letter to aldermen the union claims that its bid, which offered $1 for the building, was unfairly characterized by the housing department and it questioned the fairness of the bidding process.
The department has said that the foundation and the union should have filled out a negotiated sale application for the property years ago instead of waiting for the alternative proposal process.
Foundation officials have said that acquiring the firehouse would allow for an extension of its campus given its proximity to the center and to include the site in the festival grounds for the "Taste of Polonia," an annual event that attracts about 35,000 attendees. It was canceled in 2020 to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the foundation recently held an online fundraiser to pay for roof expenses, generating some speculation on social media that it lacks the funds for the firehouse project. Foundation officials said that as a nonprofit it regularly holds fund-raisers to improve its overall financial strength.