BEVERLY — The dry spell on 95th Street in Beverly could soon be broken by Barraco's.
Alcohol sales have been banned in the area since Prohibition, but the restaurant chain wants an exception for a proposed banquet hall in the former Beverly branch of the Chicago Public Library.
The building at 2105-2221 W. 95th St. served as the neighborhood library from 1981-2009, according to Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th).
Since then, it's been shopped to various users with little success until about two years ago when the Italian restaurant chain with six locations saw potential in the space as a banquet facility — perfect for events for less than 250 people, O'Shea said.
The Barraco family sees the building, built in the 1950s as a funeral parlor, as an ideal place to host funeral luncheons as well as First Holy Communion parties, wedding showers, anniversary parties and similar events, O'Shea said.
The banquet hall — which would operate under a different name than Barraco's — wouldn't have regular business hours like a traditional restaurant. Instead, it would be open for parties.
The stumbling block in the process is the ban on the sale of alcohol in the area that includes the business. For his part, O'Shea has said on more than one occasion that he's against a blanket repeal of the ban, but he would support making exceptions at "a specific address with a specific user."
Barraco's seems to fit the bill. The family has proposed $1.7 million in upgrades — should neighbors approve the rule change. The improvements would be extensive as the vacant building has greatly deteriorated over the years, including at least one occasion where the basement flooded, O'Shea said.
He believes the need for extensive renovations scared away other interested parties. In fact, the property has been made publicly available twice since its been empty and received no formal interest. Chicago's Wishbone restaurant briefly inquired about the site but "could never get the numbers to work," O'Shea said.
Meanwhile, Barraco's invested several million dollars in its first Chicago location that opened in Mount Greenwood in May 2014. The restaurant at 3047 W. 111th St. has proven to be successful, which has both O'Shea and the Barraco family feeling confident about this latest foray into the neighborhood.
"That adds to the comfort level in dealing with them," O'Shea said.
There are 92 registered voters in the area from 95th and 97th streets, between the east side of Hamilton Avenue and the west side of Hoyne Avenue. Two thirds, or 62 voters, need to sign a petition in order allow Barraco's to serve alcohol, O'Shea said.
He's already gathered about 30 signatures either through one-on-one conversations or after a pair of meetings with surrounding neighbors held privately at his Beverly office at 10400 S. Western Ave.
"There are very few dead-set against it," O'Shea said. "There are a lot of folks folding their arms, hemming and hawing."
He and the members of the Barraco family will again speak about the potential project and answer questions at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at Ridge Park, 9625 S. Longwood Drive in Beverly.
If the meeting goes well and enough signatures are gathered to lift the ban, the sale of alcohol would be allowed only on the south side of 95th Street between Hoyne and Hamilton avenues. This would also include a shuttered antique shop on the corner of 95th and Hoyne.
Joshua Mercer, a neighborhood Allstate agent, bought that second property and is in the process of rehabbing it. He will live on the second floor of the building and operate his insurance office on the first floor, O'Shea said.
Meanwhile, the property for Barraco's banquet hall was bought for $1 from the city. In exchange, significant upgrades are mandated, which includes returning the parcel to a property- and sales-tax generating asset, O'Shea said.
The $1 deal also allows for O'Shea to make certain stipulations should the banquet hall be sold to anyone outside of the Barraco family. If the banquet hall was sold, city officials would be able to decide if the liquor license ought to be part of the deal, O'Shea said.
The alderman also said that after the hall was open for six months, he would place a moratorium on any new liquor licenses being issued for the property to prevent anyone from opening a package liquor store on the lot in the future, O'Shea said.
Besides alcohol, neighbors also expressed concerns about parking and additional traffic surrounding the proposed banquet hall. Barraco's hopes to ease such concerns by entering into a long-term lease agreement with a city-owned parking lot at 9448 S. Pleasant Ave., O'Shea said.
Barraco's valet service would use the lot, and the restaurant chain would have an option to buy the property should all go well. In the meantime, the owners of the banquet hall would pay property taxes on the 100-spot parking lot per the lease agreement, O'Shea said.
"That parking lot is severely under used," he said.
Barraco's reached a verbal agreement with the Chicago Community Development Commission last week. That deal now must be formalized will both the city and Barraco family agreeing to legal terms — all of which is predicated on the liquor ban being lifted.
As for any future developments that might include alcohol sales on 95th, O'Shea said he would be willing to go down this same road again should someone like Barraco's show interest.
But he remained steadfast in his opposition to a blanket lifting of the ban.
"I think it would be reckless," O'Shea said.
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