Opening a new cafe in downtown Granite City is Victoria Arguelles' way of giving back to her hometown.
In April, she opened Kool Beanz Cafe at 1316 Niedringhaus Ave., where she brews coffee, serves breakfast and lunch, provides free WiFi and hosts live bands on the weekends.
"It's a dream of mine and it's something I wanted to do, to give back to my community," Arguelles said. "So when the opportunity came to be in the downtown area, I just jumped at it. I wanted to be part of the area. It's our gift back to the community."
The coffee shop is the latest example of the ongoing urban renewal in a city long known for its steelmaking. City economic development director Jon Ferry wants to bring more business downtown and spruce up the existing infrastructure.
He said that two doors down from Arguelles' cafe a tenant is interested in opening a restaurant that would also bring live entertainment to the area. Ferry said a bowling alley and a hotel are also interested in coming downtown. Ferry also said he is looking to lure a grocery store to the area.
"There so many things that are kind of ideas at this point that we are pursuing," Ferry said.
The city has received two federal grants through the Illinois Department of Transportation to further the streetscape redevelopment that was completed along Niedringhaus Avenue six years ago. The latest plans call to continue street refurbishment along Edison Avnue, State Street and Delmar Avenue, which branch from downtown. Plans include planting trees and fixing existing sidewalks so they are ADA compliant.
Housing is also on Ferry's wish list. He is eyeing new homes near the bus station at the corner of Edison and 19th street, where there are many vacant lots.
"We're looking at building townhouses for multifamily-type houses," he said. "We want to see what the market will support."
The downtown redevelopment began four years ago, when the Granite City Cinema was built and opened at 1243 Niedringhaus Ave. Soon after that, a restaurant opened downtown --Aiello's Pizzeria opened in an existing building at 1318 Niedringhaus Ave.
Ferry said a testing center that the Madison County Regional Office of Education established at 1314 Niedringhaus Ave. has also been a successful redevelopment.
"They're drawing people in from all over the metro area for testing," Ferry said. "They have been having a good draw."
One highly anticipated redevelopment project that was announced a year ago but has since stalled is the Six Mile Brewery and Smokehouse, a microbrewery and restaurant planned for 1324 Niedringhaus Ave. The building was built in the 1920s for First National Bank and has also housed Guardian Savings Bank. It has remained vacant for the past seven years.
The building and others along Niedringhaus Avenue and elsewhere downtown are owned by Lascelles Group LLC in Granite City. Granite City attorney and lifelong city resident Lance Callis, whose law firm is at 1326 Niedringhaus Ave., is part of the Lascelles Group. He said the microbrewery is "a work in progress."
"It is not open," Callis said. "I can't give you an opening date."
Callis also owns the building where Arguelles has opened her cafe. He said he has been pleased with her business.
"She is doing a hell of a job," he said. He also mentioned the success at the regional superintendent's testing center, which is also located in one of the Lascelles Group's properties. He believes downtown will see further transformation.
"There is progress," he said, "as far as the entire thing is concerned."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.