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City defends taking $10 offer for Northwest Side firehouse

Copernicus Foundation said it offered $300,000 for the Jefferson Park building, but city insists the group’s plan lacked financing and details.

The former city firehouse at 4839 N. Lipps Ave.
The former city firehouse at 4839 N. Lipps Ave.
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City officials Tuesday defended a decision to sell a former firehouse in Jefferson Park effectively for $10 and turning down an offer of $300,000 from the nearby Copernicus Foundation.

The Copernicus offer never offered evidence of financing, a clear plan and a timetable for its project, said a city spokesman.

In July, the city’s Community Development Commission agreed to sell the building at 4839 N. Lipps Ave. to an affiliate of Ambrosia Homes Development. Its proposal calls for adding one floor to the two-story brick building — vacant for about 10 years — and to convert the ground floor into a pub and restaurant for Lake Effect Brewing. The rest of the building would be turned into nine apartments.

Ambrosia, led by Tim Pomaville, agreed to pay environmental remediation costs at the property, estimated to be worth almost its appraised price of $208,000. Hence, the stated price of the sale was $10, according to a report to the CDC. Copernicus responded when the city advertised for competing bids.

A Copernicus board member said Tuesday he was shocked by the decision because the organization was prepared to pay $300,000 plus the remediation costs. “We’re financially prepared to do what needs to be done on this building,” Zenon Kurdziel, an architect and an owner of Ridgeland Associates, said during a news conference outside the property.

The organization’s proposal also called for a ground-floor brewpub, but with four apartments above it. It would not add a floor to the building. “We don’t understand how you can disqualify this offer,” he said.

The city’s rejection letter to Copernicus, dated Tuesday, said the foundation’s proposal had numerous flaws. Signed by Project Manager James Wheaton of the Housing Department, it said the group’s budget did not include a purchase price or “a projected cost for remediation of lead-based paint and asbestos that is approximately 40% of the actual cost of remediation.”

For similar reasons, the city also rejected an offer from Local 58 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. A spokesman said the union’s offer was for $1.

The proposed land sale is due to be heard Thursday by the Chicago Plan Commission. Following approval there, it would go to the City Council.

The project is within the 45th Ward represented by Ald. James Gardiner, who could not be reached for comment. He has told Nadig Newspapers on the Northwest Side that he backed a zoning change needed for the Ambrosia proposal but that the cash-strapped city should get as much money as it can for the building.

The old firehouse dates from the early 20th century and has no landmark designation, but area residents have asked that the exterior be largely kept intact.