JOLIET – The city is hoping to bring a brew pub to Union Station.
City staff is negotiating with an entrepreneurial group interested in converting about half of the first floor of the old train station into a brew pub that not only would make beer on-site but can it for retail sale, too.
It’s far from a done deal, but it is one with interesting potential, said Steve Jones, Joliet’s new economic development director.
The city initiated the idea of bringing a brew pub to Joliet when it sent out requests for proposals for a restaurant at the old Crabigale’s site downtown. The requests included a suggestion that a brew pub might work at the location.
“The tag line I used in trying to get a microbrewery in here is the fourth largest city in Illinois is Joliet, and it doesn’t have a microbrewery,” Jones said.
No active microbreweries responded. But one group interested in getting into the business did. They, however, did not want the Crabigale’s site. Staff showed them around town, including a stop at Union Station, which was built in 1912, and an idea developed.
“They loved it,” Jones said. “They just saw the iconic building, and how do you replicate that in your business plan? You can’t.”
Jones would not identify the interested party other that to say, “They’re enthusiastic, and they’re entrepreneurial.”
He also said they have financing. But they do not have experience running a restaurant and brew pub.
Two other businesses brought bars with restaurants into Union Station in past years. Both pulled out eventually.
Councilman Larry Hug, chairman of the Economic Development Committee, believes a brew pub would have more staying power because of its uniqueness.
“I think that microbreweries and brew pubs are destination businesses,” Hug said. “It’s not like you can find a microbrewery in every neighborhood.”
Hug said the prospective operators do have a brew master and appear prepared to go into business.
“I think they did a lot of their due diligence before coming to Joliet. When they saw Union Station, they were excited,” he said.
Meanwhile, city staff also is talking with a business interested in putting a restaurant in the Crabigale’s site, located in the 1890 Loughran Building at Chicago and Cass streets.
Hug said that business does have a successful restaurant now and their plan for the site “is something we don’t have in the city right now.”
The city owns both buildings. Joliet owns two-thirds of Union Station with Metra owning another third, but the city has control of what goes into the building.
Union Station was closed in 2014 as the city began to relocate commuter boarding to the other side of the railroad tracks in preparation for a new train station yet to be built. Once the new station opens, Jones said, Joliet will have complete ownership of Union Station.