Amid recent concerns regarding the pace of two downtown La Salle projects controlled by CL Enterprises, the company’s president provided an update on the status of the Rocket Brewpub and the restoration of the Kaskaskia Hotel.
The former Maytag building at 801-805 First St. that will be home to the brewpub has been under the group’s ownership since 2015 and the Kaskaskia has been with CL Enterprises since 2016, but both projects remain in motion, said Nathan Watson, president of CL Enterprises.
“We are working on (the Rocket) as quickly as possible and expect to be finished certainly within a year and hopefully a lot sooner and everyone’s going to be very happy with it,” Watson said. “It’s worth waiting for a really high quality project.”
La Salle council members raised concerns Monday during their regular meeting about the progress of the projects.
The First Street project includes 7,000 square feet of new commercial space, an outdoor dining area, six upstairs, one-bedroom apartments and off-street parking for nine cars. Proposed tenants of the project include Tangled Roots Brewing Company and Jeremiah Joe Coffee, which both currently operate businesses in Ottawa.
Watson said while the progress on the Rocket, especially, has been slower than expected, he is confident once it is completed it will become a cornerstone for La Salle.
“It slowed down and we’re certainly not happy with the pace of that,” Watson said. “We want to see it faster but it’s also a complex and beautiful building. So we are doing a really good job with it. It’s a very well designed and thoroughly designed restaurant and brewery.”
The building housing the Rocket Brewpub also is planned to house multiple living spaces and a coffee shop once it’s all said and done.
Watson said supply chain delays and staffing effects of COVID-19 have led to the slowed progress, but the construction has also led to the discovery of additional issues in the building that had to be resolved.
“It takes longer to do something, essentially from scratch, but also in a historic building which is complicated and has all kinds of nice surprises and not so nice surprises behind the walls,” Watson said.
These issues have included structural improvements and even encountering brick installed with no mortar to hold it together. The total investment to put together the Rocket Brewpub is estimated to be about $4 million.
“The contractor has been consistently working on the project,” Watson said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of visible change to the building in the next few weeks.”
Some of the changes passersby can expect to see in upcoming weeks to months will include tuckpointing the Western wall that faces Joliet street and the installation of new windows on the wall itself. This will help create a more completed building look, according to Watson.
Watson also said CL Enterprises was able to gather the roughly $35 million in funding needed for the planned restoration of the Kaskaskia Hotel.
“It took us many years to put together,” Watson said. “This is a very ambitious project for a very upscale boutique hotel of 100 rooms and a lot of meeting space.”
Watson said CL was bidding the project in October and November of 2019 and in February of 2020 the last pieces fell into place as it was then set for a June of 2020 closing date.
After the pandemic hit in March of 2020, it left many lenders and banks uncertain of the near future and especially uncertain of the hospitality industry. This led to many big lenders for the project backing out.
“We’re still in a phase where hotel financing is very challenging and we continue to work very hard to put together a deal,” Watson said.
The public interest in the buildings remains high as Watson believes some of the recent inquiries and criticism has come from Tangled Roots Brewing Companies expansion in other markets. A Tangled Roots brewery opened in Ottawa five years ago, and new locations opened in Lockport and Glenview, and the company announced recently its plan to open a new one in DeKalb.
“I think a lot of this came up because of a recent announcement of TRBC’s expansion into DeKalb and some concerns that it was taking priority over La Salle,” Watson said. “That’s not the case at all. Those are completely separate venues and we are proceeding with this project here, which is more than just a Tangled Roots facility.”
During the past few La Salle City Council meetings, discussions took place between Alderman James Bacidore and others on the council regarding the construction of these two projects.
Watson was reached for comment and provided an email detailing the status of the Rocket and reasons for the delay.
Bacidore, who has been critical of the progress of CL Enterprises in La Salle, was unhappy with Watson’s decision not to appear in front of the council and instead offer an invitation to his office for any council member wanting to learn more. Watson said one alderman has taken him up on his offer.
Watson said when he had appeared in front of the council in the past he felt abused and previously called a liar and chose not to return on Monday.
“You can quote me on this; ‘I’m never surprised when Bacidore criticizes us,’ ” Watson said.
Watson said he is not unwilling to go to a future council meeting but rather his previous experiences have been unpleasant.
“People tell me I’m pushing smoke and mirrors and all of that is offensive to me personally because I know how hard we work on these projects and what they mean for the community,” Watson said. “I would not like to see the project jeopardized because of misunderstandings and other agendas that particular aldermen might have.”
Watson also mentioned he believes his organization has a good relationship with the city, and officials have been, and he hopes they will remain supportive of CL’s plans for the future.
In the future Watson would like to see an open line of communication between CL Enterprises and the city and a formal inquiry for more information rather than being brought up without much warning during a city council meeting.
“Our private business is private business but at the same time we do want you to be excited about the project and we do want you to know that it’s coming and we’re absolutely committed to it,” Watson said. “You’re going to be ecstatic when it’s over and I think that will solve a lot of issues. The proof is in the project.”