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New legal action could delay Washington brewpub project

Attorney Brian Mooty addresses the Washington City Council on Monday.
Steve Stein
Attorney Brian Mooty addresses the Washington City Council on Monday.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held Thursday for the $8-9 million Grist Mill brewpub that will be built on the downtown Washington square.

But a dispute between Marlene Miller, owner of an adjacent building that was damaged during demolition work for the brewpub, and the brewpub developers could end up in court again and delay the project that's already a year behind schedule.

Brian Mooty, Miller's attorney, filed for an injunction in Tazewell County Court in June to halt work on the brewpub project. The case never was heard because of an out-of-court agreement.

Mooty said Monday during public comment at a Washington City Council meeting that he's prepared to file for an injunction again.

"There's talk around town that Marlene is holding up this project," Mooty said. "That's not true. It's the developers. She wants to see the brewpub built.

"This project can't go forward until the developers tell us how they're going to repair Marlene's building. They're stonewalling us."

Mooty asked those attending the groundbreaking to take a look at the damage to Miler's building, at 114 Walnut St. The building includes her art studio, her living space and other apartments.

Leri Slonneger, who has spoken for Miller at City Council meetings and lives near the brewpub site, distributed a sheet to elected officials and city staff Monday that listed the $36,305 in expenses Miller has incurred as a result of the project, and anticipated expenses of $88,735 for the year.

Itemized current expenses include legal fees ($22,000), hiring a structural engineer, plumbing repairs needed because of water main breaks, loss of rent, rent refunds because of the water main breaks, and loss of income in Miller's studio.

The anticipated estimated cost to repair damage done to the building foundation, interior damage and west wall sealants is in excess of $30,000. The anticipated estimated cost to repair and reinforce the second-floor temporary landing and stairwell, and build third-floor temporary fire escapes is $5,000.

The Washington Historical Society headquarters is on the other side of the brewpub site at 128 Washington Square. It too was damaged by demolition work. The Historical Society building has been repaired and society officials are talking with the developers about reimbursement.

Washington Mayor Gary Manier said it's unfortunate there have been issues with the developers and neighbors.

"I'm hoping the developers can work things out with Marlene soon so we can get this project off the ground," he said.

Manier said the project has been a learning experience for the city. It's the first time time buildings have been taken down downtown to make way for a new one.

"Large cities do this all the time," he said. "We've never done it."

The Grist Mill is a partnership of CL Real Estate Development, Grist Mill Ventures and Washington residents Jeff and Kelly Pohl.

Two buildings were demolished to pave the way for the two-story mixed-use structure at 140 Washington Square and 112 Walnut St., that will have a brewpub on the first floor and a rooftop beer garden and residential units on the second floor.

The city of Washington has pledged up to $980,000 in tax increment funding and an additional $120,000 in water and sewer improvements to help the developers build the brewpub.

An estimated $120,000 annually in sales tax revenue is expected to be generated by the brewpub and $75,000-$80,000 annually is expected to be returned into the TIF fund after the building is fully accessed.

City officials say the brewpub also will be a job creator, catalyst for economic development in the city, and attract patrons from across the area, helping Washington businesses.

"You're a partner in this project," Mooty said Monday to city officials. "Can't you help one of your residents?"

A redevelopment agreement between the developers and the city includes a Dec. 1 deadline for a grand opening. The developers say they're now looking at a November 2024 grand opening because of supply chain issues and inflation, which has caused changes in project plans.

The developers are expected to be at next week's City Council committee of the whole meeting to discuss their plans for two buildings near the brewpub they have purchased, and a request for funding help from the city.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.