Developer Joel Frieders sounds nostalgic when he talks about his plans to convert a long-vacant downtown Glen Ellyn building into a restaurant, cafe and event space.
The old Giesche Shoes store has sat empty for three years at the southern gateway to the village's core business district. Other developers considered replacing the structure with a sprawling apartment complex, but Frieders says the building has too much character to demolish.
He's captivated by the two-story glass windows and an open staircase inside the 15,200-square-foot shop at the northwest corner of Main Street and Hillside Avenue.
"There's no reason to tear this building down," Frieders said. "It's massive, and it's become the thing that I think about all the time."
The village doesn't allow banquet spaces downtown. But Frieders and his business partners are looking to see whether officials are even receptive to permitting such a concept at the Giesche site during a plan commission meeting Thursday night.
Frieders and Jeremy Jensen, co-founders of Elemy LLC, an Aurora-based property development company, are working with Nick Roberge and Jack Waters -- two restaurateurs who run Barrel+Rye, a bistro and whiskey bar, and The Burger Local in Geneva.
In Glen Ellyn, Roberge and Waters opened Maize+Mash just steps from the family-owned Giesche shop on a stretch of Main Street where developers are transforming other empty storefronts into a restaurant row.
The pair also is slated to launch The Burger Social in early December in a downtown Wheaton building owned and redeveloped by Frieders and Jensen.
Frieders and Roberge are listed on a request for the informal meeting with Glen Ellyn plan commissioners. They have submitted a "highly preliminary" conceptual proposal for the Giesche site, said Staci Hulseberg, the village's planning and development director.
That proposal calls for setting aside about 3,300 square feet for the restaurant and 3,500 square feet for the cafe on the first floor of the building. On the second floor, roughly 6,300 square feet would be devoted to the event space. Developers also envision an outdoor patio and rooftop dining.
They haven't yet fleshed out their ideas for the restaurant. As for the event space, Frieders said such a venue close to the Metra station would be highly sought after by wedding parties, reunions and smaller gatherings.
Frieders and his partners also have been in talks with a valet company to facilitate parking.
If they decide to move forward with the project, developers would have to seek a text amendment to village code to add an event space as a special use downtown and obtain a special-use permit in addition to any zoning variances.
Another real estate group walked away from plans to raze the Giesche store and construct an apartment building with space for retailers on the ground floor.
The Opus Group first proposed the redevelopment in March 2014. But the Minneapolis-based firm never formally applied for zoning approvals for a building that would have dwarfed nearby shops and restaurants.