Co-owners of a prospective microbrewery in Oak Park got a mixed reaction from residents at a public meeting Wednesday, some questioning the group's plan to displace existing businesses.
The meeting was held at 18 Chicago Ave., the site where the microbrewery hopes to set up shop and the current home of Derby Lite, a roller derby fitness club, and Legacy Sports Camp, an athletic training facility for kids.
Both businesses have been at the 7,500-square-foot location for several years, but neither has agreed to sign a long-term lease with Oak Park Apartments, which has leased the property on a month-to-month basis. Noon Whistle is the first business to come along with plans to sign a long-term lease, Oak Park Apartments co-owner Bob Planek told Wednesday Journal in early February.
The brewery is expected to be up and running by October, giving existing businesses a short timeframe for relocating.
Noon Whistle co-owners Paul Kreiner, Mike Condon and Jim Kagle made their pitch to neighbors for their session-beer concept — lower alcohol content craft beers, around 5 percent or less — amid the echoing clang of kids at batting practice.
While many were receptive to the idea of the new business, some asked whether the group could find a different location.
"I think it's awesome that a brewery, especially a session beer brewery, is coming to Oak Park," resident and Derby Lite patron Laurie Freivogel said, but, "there are 1,000 people taking classes here that also need a unique space … and none of us will have anywhere to go.
"I love beer, but I just love skating more," Freivogel said.
Viktor Schrader, vice president of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, which helped Noon Whistle scout the location, acknowledged that displacing two businesses for one was "not an ideal situation."
"We've started looking for other locations and hopefully we can find space for them," Schrader said.
Freivogel suggested the business move to a vacant space located at 222 Lake Street, but Schrader said that space was currently under contract with another business.
During the presentation, Condon told residents and neighbors that Noon Whistle would serve primarily as a manufacturing facility and that 90 percent of the product would be sold offsite. The remainder would be sold to locals through the microbrewery's tasting room, which will seat roughly 35-50 patrons.
The tasting room is expected to be open until 10 p.m. and will limit customers to five beers per visit.
While some questioned the decision to locate at the site of Derby Lite, others voiced their support for the new business.
"I've been in Oak Park long enough to see a lot of interested businesses with viable business ideas never get through the Oak Park process," said 15-year resident Marcy Gorrell, questioning whether the village and OPEDC would be able to meet Noon Whistle's aggressive timeline. "I'd hate to see another business leave us to go to Forest Park or to go to somewhere close."
Schrader said his group and the village are "all-hands-on deck" with the project and working to meet the October open date. He noted that the village already has approved a special microbrew liquor license category for Noon Whistle.