Greg Sorg is reluctant to talk. Not because he doesn’t want to talk but because he doesn’t want to talk too much.

The subject is his plan for a building he owns at Lake Street and Austin Boulevard, which, after years of efforts, seems “on the cusp” of being redeveloped into a brewpub/restaurant. 

He’s fully on board to restore the one-time — for a short time at the start of the Depression — bank building. He’s got a group of local operators excited to build the pub. And after Monday evening’s vote, he’s got the backing of Oak Park’s village government and the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation to offer up a nice batch of sales tax incentives to likely seal the deal.

But Sorg, a longtime Oak Parker who makes his living restoring and operating multifamily properties on the West Side and South Side, doesn’t want enthusiasm for the project — which, best case scenario, is more than a year away — to peak early.

Trouble is, I’m about as excited as he is to see this happen. So I pull out the old “It’s about to be discussed at a public meeting,” argument and soon we’re chatting up the possibilities here.

I’ve been watching this building my whole life, since I walked by it every day delivering Chicago’s American in the late 1960s. It is a handsome building and has been an underperformer in every sad incarnation. Medical offices. Credit card processing offices. I ask him if you stood inside today could you see the bones of a gracious old bank. Yes, he says, “there are the remnants of a beautiful bank. Plaster columns that reach to the roofline. A mezzanine on two sides.”

That it has been ignored and underappreciated for decades puts it parallel to all of Oak Park’s east side, or, if you want to think a bit more broadly, to Austin’s west side. And here is where Sorg’s view inspires me. 

He has never, he says, liked Oak Park’s designation of the commercial corridor intersections along Austin Boulevard as “gateways.” That suggests, says Sorg, the option of closing a gate, or limiting access from the West Side. Instead, he says Lake and Austin ought to be a “bridgeway” between two communities, both of which could use some decent amenities such as a brewpub. 

He credits the reinvigorated OPEDC with nurturing this deal. 

“They are like a breath of fresh air,” he said.

John Lynch, the executive director of OPEDC, points to a wave of positive action along east Lake Street as setting the stage for this next step. Between them they laud the opening of the park district’s gymnastics center a half block west, Pete’s Fresh Market stepping in at Dominick’s, the School of Rock, the Historical Society opening this year at Lake and Lombard, and improvements at Stevenson Park.

Sorg’s investment at this corner is notable and long-term. His Pioneer Property Advisors purchased the small building adjacent to the bank nearly 10 years ago, bought a very small village-owned parking lot a few years later and, most recently, purchased the long-standing Minit Car Wash, which Sorg and his crew now operate.

Here’s a guy who is all in. And when he describes the rooftop bar being planned for the brewpub with its open site lines to the Loop down along the Green Line, he is basically rhapsodizing — his initial fear when he walked into my web.

I promised him, and I’ll promise you, that as this plan moves ahead, I’ll come back around to this venture, the most enterprising development news in some long time. 

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...

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