From pianos to pot, Rosemont entertainment district site will become dispensary

Shuttered only months after playing its first song, a dueling piano bar in Rosemont's entertainment district is being converted into a recreational marijuana dispensary in hopes of reaping the benefits of a new industry growing despite the pandemic.

Village trustees voted 5-0 Wednesday morning to grant a special use authorizing the pot shop and sign code variances for Verilife, which takes over the single-story, 4,800-square-foot brick building shell in Parkway Bank Park.

Despite the family-friendly daytime image of the park - now host to its annual winter ice skating season - Mayor Brad Stephens said the location between the AMC movie theater and iFly indoor sky diving venue is "in the open, but discreet enough."

"I think when you look at the outside of the building, I don't think it screams, 'Come get high,'" he said. "The world has evolved to the point of having it be acceptable."

Pete's Dueling Piano Bar opened in the space a little over a year ago, closed in March due to state COVID-19 orders, and briefly reopened for outdoor dining and limited indoor seating in June.

That was the same month the village board signed off on new zoning rules that opened up the possibility of a marijuana dispensary within the prominent 200,000-square-foot complex east of the Tri-State Tollway. It followed an advisory referendum in March in which 59% of Rosemont voters said they were OK with pot sales in the village.

By the fall, Stephens announced the piano bar likely wouldn't be coming back, while the board approved a $225,000 sale of the land to a development partnership led by Braden Real Estate Chairman/CEO Marc Offit and Chicago bar owner Kevin Killerman. A closing on that purchase is scheduled for Thursday.

The buyers, in turn, inked a long-term lease with Verilife parent company PharmaCann Inc., company officials confirmed.

The Rosemont board's unanimous vote Wednesday morning didn't include Trustee Jack Dorgan, a registered lobbyist for PharmaCann, who was absent from the meeting.

The village stands to make at least $600,000 a year from its 3% local tax on Verilife's sales, according to a company estimate. Similar revenues could be seen from another recreational marijuana shop, EarthMed at 10441 W. Touhy Ave., which the board granted special use approval in August and is now doing interior renovations.

The entertainment district shop will be the fifth in Illinois for PharmaCann, which operates 14 dispensaries and has about another dozen under development in six states. The firm also operates five cultivation centers, including one in downstate Dwight, which ships product to its stores in Arlington Heights, North Aurora, Ottawa and Romeoville. Other shops proposed for Chicago's River North neighborhood and Galena have received zoning approvals.

The Rosemont store will only sell to recreational - not medical - users, as the location will serve as a state-permitted secondary site to an existing medical dispensary. Customers will be required to make online reservations for pickup, in an effort to avoid the lines seen at competing pot shops, officials say.

Company officials consider the new Rosemont shop to be their flagship suburban location.

"We love the robust business community that you all folks have developed here," Jeremy Unruh, PharmaCann's senior vice president of public and regulatory affairs, said during a Rosemont zoning board meeting Tuesday afternoon.

"We very much believe that there is a synergy between what we do and what you all folks are doing," he added.

After a planned $700,000 interior build out, the store could be open as soon as February.

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