By Bob Uphues
After more than a year of frustrating delays, the Rev. Karl Sokol could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Compassion United Methodist Church was on the cusp of opening its combination worship space and for-profit art gallery/studio inside a former dry cleaning business at 9210 Broadway Ave.
A kiln for firing ceramics, a piano and paints – lot of paints – to create new works of art were just about ready to be transported to the new space from where they were being stored, just a stone's throw away, inside a former diner at 3453 Grand Blvd.
But a fire that swept through the former diner on the morning of Nov. 7 has delayed things somewhat. Sparks falling from the roof of the one-story building, where workers were completing the installation of a new metal deck, ignited materials below.
A fire engine from the Broadway Avenue station just a block away arrived on the scene within a minute of the fire being reported at about 11:35 a.m. Firefighters remained on scene until almost 1 p.m.
"The fire never penetrated through the roof," said Brookfield Fire Chief Patrick Lenzi.
But Sokol indicated that efforts to douse the flames early on were hampered because the doors to the building were locked. Workers arrived that morning to quickly finish the roof deck job, Sokol said, something they expected to knock out in 20 minutes.
"They were, like, on the last two square feet," Sokol said
The building itself wasn't badly damaged; the interior previously had been demolished, leaving the brick shell to be renovated. But the paints, kiln and piano being stored there temporarily were lost. Sokol was slated to meet with representatives from the insurance company early this week.
Instead of opening the art gallery/worship space on Broadway Avenue in a couple of weeks, Sokol said he's now shooting for a Jan. 1, 2018 occupancy.
The future art gallery/worship space at 9210 Broadway Ave. is owned by Compassion United Methodist Church. Sokol is the pastor of that fledgling congregation, which has no permanent home. The former diner at 3453 Grand Blvd., which sits at one of the Eight Corners that give the neighborhood its name, is owned by Sokol's mother, Linda Sokol Francis.
Since the late 1980s, Francis has invested more than $2 million in properties in the neighborhood.
Francis bought the property at 3453 Grand Blvd. in March. She also owns the corner property directly across Grand Boulevard from the former diner. In 2009-10, Francis bought 14 zoning parcels on the west side of the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard, transferring most of the land to the United Methodist Church, but retaining the corner parcel.
She owns other property on the east side of the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard, including her financial planning business, just down the block from the former diner. She also owns the former Kewpies hot dog stand at 3434 Maple Ave.
While the fire has interrupted progress, the plan is to transform the building at 3453 Grand Blvd. into a healthy Mediterranean cuisine restaurant.
"It seems like a prime spot for a restaurant," said Sokol.
As for when that transformation might be completed, Sokol said, "I wouldn't hazard a guess. The art gallery took a year longer than I expected."