A new micro-brewery and restaurant under development in downtown Granite City is the latest sign that the city not just home to steelmaking.
Giant copper kettle drums are in place inside the first floor of the former bank building at 1324 Niedringhaus Ave., where proprietor Dimitri Tomich anticipates opening his Six Mile Brewery and Smokehouse within the next few months.
"It's pretty exciting," Tomich said. "It looks like everybody, including the city, is behind it."
The name is a tribute to the city's history. The community was initially known as Six Mile Prairie -- named for the six miles farmers traveled to market their corn in St. Louis. In 1896, German immigrants and brothers Frederick and William Niedringhaus founded and renamed the town Granite City after their Granite Ware kitchen supplies factory.
Tomich would not disclose the financial terms of the 3,000-square-foot redevelopment. He said the new restaurant will carry a menu of barbecue entrees and salads. He purchased his brewing equipment from Dushan Manjencich, who owned the Buffalo Brewing Co. in St. Louis' Midtown area. Manjencich closed his business last month.
The new micro-brewery is being built inside the former Guardian Savings Bank. The building was initially built in the 1920s for First National Bank. The building had been vacant for the past six years.
Upstairs, the entire second floor has been renovated, and St. Louis-based nonprofit asset and development organization Justine Petersen has opened a new office.
Tomich said his development is still pending some final agreement between his party and his the landlord, Lascelles Group LLC in Granite City, but expects to move forward soon with project.
"We're pretty much finished with the fine details between both parties," he said. "We don't see any problems with that. Right now, we're just dotting the I's and crossing the T's."
Granite City attorney and lifelong city resident Lance Callis is part of the Lascelles Group that owns this and other downtown properties recently redeveloped and under redevelopment along Niedringhaus Avenue. Callis, whose law firm is nearby at 1326 Niedringhaus Ave., said the new micro-brewery and restaurant should further re-energize the downtown business sector.
"I think it's fabulous," Callis said. "It's already had an effect on the city. It started a rebirth of downtown. It started with the people in city government with the mayor and the City Council that had the guts to put up the movie theater, which has been making money. A lot of people were surprised, including me. They are doing very well with the theater. It's made money and it's done well."
The Granite City Cinema was built down the street at 1243 Niedringhaus Ave. and opened in 2010. Soon after that, Aiello's Pizzeria opened in an existing building at 1318 Niedringhaus Ave.
City economic development director Jon Ferry said these are only two examples of recent reinvestment in the city. Down the street where Niedringhaus Avenue meets Madison Avenue, Gateway Regional Medical Center has expanded and has invested $35 million into the hospital five years ago. West of the downtown area, Prairie Farms has recently invested $25 million and added 25 new jobs. The city's library at 2001 Delmar Ave. is getting ready to spend $3 million on renovations.
Between the micro-brewery and the pizzeria, a vacant building was demolished and cleared away two weeks for more potential redevelopment. Next door to the pizzeria, renovation is underway inside a building where the Madison County Regional Office of Education will open a new testing center.
"It's not just one piece," Ferry said. "It's been a lot of pieces coming together."
Ferry, who was appointed the city economic development director at age 23 in 2006 after the job had remained unfilled the previous five years, said the new micro-brewery is another step that just confirms the downtown area's "resuscitation."
"This particular business will really serve as an anchor," he said. "It will be another option for things to do when people come downtown. We think this will take us one step closer to sustaining pedestrian traffic all day along."
Two U.S. Steel Corp. employees who work at the steelmaker's financial department offices downtown were eating lunch Wednesday at Aiello's Pizzeria. They said they are impressed with the recent transformation.
"It's been nice to see," said 27-year-old Dan Sweet of Collinsville. "Before, you wouldn't even walk somewhere to have lunch downtown."
Co-worker Spencer Hoppes, a 24-year-old from Edwardsville, said, "They've really cleaned things up and are making it a lot nicer."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.