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'We’re going to continue to push through:' Washington brewpub developers say an opening is coming, even if it's later than expected

Commercial buildings at 140 Washington Square and 112 Walnut streets owned by Washington investors Jeff and Kelly Pohl are still set to become the home of a currently unnamed restaurant, brewpub, short term rental and event space.
Collin Schopp
Commercial buildings at 140 Washington Square and 112 Walnut streets owned by Washington investors Jeff and Kelly Pohl are still set to become the home of a currently unnamed restaurant, brewpub, short term rental and event space.

A major redevelopment on Washington's historic city square may not open on its original schedule but investors say it's still coming.

In December of 2021, CL Real Estate Development and local investor Jeff Pohl approached the Washington City Council with a proposition: ten thousand square feet of redevelopment at 140 Washington Square and 112 Walnut Street; including dining, a brewpub and a rooftop beer garden — all overlooking the town's main square.

Washington City Administrator Jim Snider said CL has several restaurants across Central Illinois.

“From my perspective, working on these types of projects over the years, we have a very well established restaurant entrepreneur,” he said. “Their operation that I’ve been to in Ottawa is just a phenomenal restaurant.”

According to Snider, supply chain issues and inflation have plagued preparations for the development.

“Because of all of the construction costs and everything of that nature,” he explained. “They have not come back to us and asked for any other assistance.”

The initial estimates called for a $6.5 million project, but CL Development CEO Nathan Watson said it's safe to assume that number has risen, though he can't provide specifics at this time.

“We’ve seen at least a twenty percent rise in construction costs and we’ve seen a doubling in interest rate expenses, these are significant impacts,” he said. “All I can say is, we’re going to continue to push through the project and find ways to make it happen.”

The city also has an investment of up to $1.1 million in the project, paid primarily through TIF funds. Some of the requirements of the funding include demolition on the project starting by March 1, though Snider said the date is flexible.

Watson said the company submitted a demolition application in late February, while Pohl adds that some preparations have already started inside the building.

“We’ve already begun to remove salvageable equipment, HVAC and air handling systems,” Pohl said. “Things of that nature that we’ve found other uses for.”

Despite the challenges, Watson said the design has stayed largely the same. Amenities touted from the beginning, like a rooftop bar and onsite brewing, are still a part of the project, even as the designs are still being finalized ahead of construction.

“It’s all there, we haven’t given up on any of that,” Watson says. “We haven’t purposely shrunk anything. The fact is, we’ve expanded the size of the project and continue to do so and investing more money there.”

For example, Watson explains up to five short-term rentals will be included on the second floor.

“Which diversifies the income stream, reduces risk a little bit,” he said. “And we are also, not quite ready to announce it yet, but are expanding the project to include some other venue options and rental spaces which will help diversify the project income stream.”

Another potential change coming to the project: the name. At the start, Watson said "The Grist Mill" was chosen to reflect Washington's history and the agricultural area, as well as the "farm to foam" beer branding of Tangled Roots, the company that will operate the restaurant and bar.

Watson said they want to potentially drop the word "grist" from the moniker and feature the Tangled Roots branding more prominently

“We like the name of The Mill, just being frank and off the cuff. The grist part is something that sometimes has an association people don’t like,” he said. “So we may just jettison the grist and keep the mill, but it’s still to be determined. So, they’re still working on it.”

One other thing that may need to be adjusted is the opening date. The redevelopment agreement calls for a grand opening by December 1, 2023. Watson said they just chose their contractor in late 2022, though they're not ready to announce who that is just yet.

With all that in mind, Watson says December of this year is a "real challenge."

“We’re definitely going to be well under construction at that point in time, but will we have a grand opening at that time?” Watson said. “I think we’ll probably get back with the city and with you and let you know what the new date is as soon as we can get a firm date on it.”

Whatever the date of the opening, it will be the culmination of a journey of more than a decade for Pohl. He and his wife Kelly have owned the property for 12 years. They weathered the tornado that struck Washington in 2013, and watched multiple businesses leasing the property come and go.

He said the restaurant angle for the property has been a lasting dream for his wife.

“I think, the long and the short of it is, my wife is a visionary,” said Pohl. “She has had this vision, honestly, from the moment that we bought it. She is also very persistent and one of my duties is to make sure I’m doing what I can to help her dreams come true.”

Pohl also hopes the restaurant could serve as a shot in the arm for existing business and future development in Washington.

“We had smaller dreams, the dreams are a lot bigger now and we could not be happier,” he said. “It’s going to transform Washington and catalyze further development.”

Another factor in the design and construction of the brewpub is making it fit in without any risk to other historic buildings in the Washington Square. Watson says they're working closely with building owners on either side of the property.

The developers will also be meeting with the city to receive a "Certificate of Approval," as well as consulting the Historic Preservation Commission to make sure the business fits in with the aesthetics of the square.

Watson said to expect more updates on the contractor, what the building will look like, and the future of the project in the next month.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.