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State aid sought for brewery, restaurant at former Summit Mall

Fri, Jan 27th 2017 04:15 pm
John Robinson, a principal in Big Thunder Brewing Co., holds an artist's rendering of the company's logo during the Wheatfield Town Board meeting.
John Robinson, a principal in Big Thunder Brewing Co., holds an artist's rendering of the company's logo during the Wheatfield Town Board meeting.

By Lauren Zaepfel

Tribune Editor

The Town of Wheatfield may soon apply for a state grant to provide aid to the company Big Thunder Brewing Co. in constructing a brewery and restaurant at the former Summit Mall.

The amount of funding allocated through the Community Development Block Grant program from the Office of Community Renewal would correlate with the number of jobs created from the project, maxing out at $750,000, said R. Charles Bell of H. Sicherman & Co., an economic development consultant for the Wheatfield Local Development Corp.

In an email Tuesday, Bell said, "The brewery itself is expected to employ 15 people, with the number increasing to 50 employees when you include the bar and restaurant."

In order to receive the grant, jobs would have to be available for all income levels.

The overall cost of the project would be approximately $3.3 million, said John Robinson of Ontario, Canada, a principal in the soon-to-be established Big Thunder Brewing Co. (expected to be formed as an limited liability company within the next 30 days).

During Monday's Town Board meeting, Robinson said the project would span approximately 15,500 square feet within the mall, adjacent to a two-story space that formerly housed a Hens & Kelly store.

Plans include a 20-barrel commercial brewery as well as a separate 5-barrel "teaching brewery." Roughly 4,000 square feet of space would be allocated for classroom, lounges and washrooms for the teaching brewery, which may be used by students of Niagara County Community College's brewery program, Robinson said.

The company expects to supply $195,000 worth of equipment for the teaching brewery.

"Though they (NCCC) are not committed 100 percent right now ... we want to keep the door open for them in the future," Robinson said.

About $1.8 million in equipment would be provided for both breweries, and, "We're going to have another $600,000 to $700,000 in renovations to the space itself, and we're going to put a tap room in," Robinson said.

He added, "About 98 percent of the brewery is going to be a wholesale, in which we're going to be having one or two different distributors within Western New York distribute our beer."

A tasting room will also be available, "so the public can have an opportunity to taste our brands," including seasonal offerings, Robinson said.

He said it's hoped that the Big Thunder Brewing Co. project will be completed by Oct. 1.

Besides attracting visitors to the brewery itself, Bell said the project will also support some of the sporting activities that are eyed for the mall.

The brewery is only part of the plans proposed for the former mall. A sports complex, the Niagara International Sports and Entertainment facility, is planned to be constructed at the mall, as well. Neal Turvey, the complex's consultant, would manage the facility, which would consist of two 96,000-square-foot domes stationed at the rear of the mall. These domes would be available for various sports, housing playing fields and courts.

Based on negotiated contracts for the leasing of the domes, Robinson said an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 people would be coming through the mall as visitors. "We actually anticipate more," he said. "In fact, we have a waiting list. And that is between October and May of each year."

He also said designs are underway for ball and soccer fields at a more than 500-acre property (owned by Zoran Cocov) across the street from the former mall.

Robinson said the goal is to have activities held throughout the year at the location.

"Usually the winter months are the slow months, but with this kind of traffic coming through the mall, we really anticipate that the brewery will do very, very well," he said.

Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said, if the plan works out as the partners have presented it, "I can't envision it not being a good fit (for Wheatfield)."

"It sounds all very positive," he added.

On Monday, Cocov said there are additional plans for the mall. However, he does not want to release them to the public yet.

Bell said the town will be asked to vote on authorizing the application for the state grant, likely next month.

"If this funding is applied for, the structure would be that the town would get the grant from the state, (and) would then partner with the (Wheatfield) Local Development Corp. to then oversee the project from the public side and administer it and provide the funding," Bell said.

In other news:

•Wheatfield residents Deborah Fadel and Laurie Galbo addressed the board, urging the members to install sidewalks in and around the Kruger Road neighborhood, including the area along Niagara Falls Boulevard to Ward Road, and the area's residential routes.

In early October 2016, Fadel and Kelly Dueger, both Kruger Road residents, told the board they gathered 662 signatures from both Kruger Road and surrounding area residents who supported the sidewalks. The Town Board agreed to pursue a state grant to cover 80 percent of the cost of the sidewalk, which was estimated at $945,000. If the town receives the grant, the remaining 20 percent of the project's cost, $189,000, would still need to be covered.

"It all comes down to whether or not we do get a grant," Cliffe said.

He added, "Once we have that, then the other decisions start - whether or not the Town Board is going to pay. ... Or whether or not the Town Board is going to ask people in the area to pay some of the money towards the sidewalks still needs to be decided."

•The board opted not to vote on the current version of a solar energy law proposed for the town after hearing residents' concerns and questions regarding setbacks and size of ground-mounted systems on residential properties.

Cliffe said the questions would be relayed to planning consultant Andrew C. Reilly, who has been working with the town's task force on the law, before the next board meeting.

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