A potential boost to the city’s waterfront received a death blow last week, as the parent company of a popular brewery/restaurant canceled its plans with the city.
Rock Street Brewery LLC has pulled out of a deal with the city to relocate New England Brewing Co. to the former Savin Rock Conference Center, Mayor Nancy R. Rossi confirmed last week.
Rossi said she was told by Marty Juliano, NEBCO’s director of business development, on Sept. 5 that a revised lease agreement proposal between the city and developer Doug Gray, the principal of the Delaware-based limited liability company, was off the table because of a lack of support from “some City Council members, a few Land Trust of West Haven members and an appeal filed by the owners of Jimmies of Savin Rock restaurant.”
Most of the city’s residents and businesses supported the brewery project, Rossi said, with many residents speaking in favor of the project at council meetings.
Juliano, a native of West Haven, also told Rossi that the Woodbridge craft brewery apparently has two other offers to relocate elsewhere in the works. He did not specify where, the mayor said.
“Many residents say they want development, and I brought them a development they could be proud of — but a few City Council members and a couple of Land Trust members, along with the Jimmies’ owners’ appeal, tanked it,” a disappointed Rossi said.
On Aug. 31, 2022, the City Council unanimously approved the original lease agreement between the city and Rock Street Brewery to relocate NEBCO to the prime waterfront location at 6 Rock St.
At the time, the 60-year ground lease allowed for the city to maintain ownership of the 4.38-acre property while allowing the developer to demolish the existing conference center and construct a 46,165-square-foot building that would include a brewery, a taproom and event space.
According to the agreement at the time, Gray would pay the city rent and serve as the brewery’s landlord at its “forever home” on the Savin Rock shoreline overlooking Long Island Sound.
That all changed a short time later, however, when the owners of Jimmies at 5 Rock St. initiated litigation with Gray, contesting setbacks to the property, adjacent to the Savin Rock landmark off Captain Thomas Boulevard.
To prevent a lengthy litigation process, Gray revised the original plans to encompass the footprint of the existing structure. As a result, the scale of the project was significantly reduced, especially the square footage, Rossi said.
Gray then proposed amending the original lease agreement with the city to reflect the modified plans, which included renovating the existing building instead of demolishing it.
The modified plans also included the elimination of the production component of the project, essentially making it a tasting facility without the original “Brewed in West Haven” concept.
During the public comment session of the City Council meeting at City Hall on Aug. 28, some council members and residents voiced concerns about the proposed lease agreement amendment.
“I am extremely disappointed that some council members and business owners chose to publicly embarrass Mr. Gray and Mr. Juliano at that meeting, which I think is shameful,” Rossi said.
NEBCO, founded by Rob Leonard in Woodbridge in 2002, brews Sea Hag and other popular India pale ales at 175 Amity Road in Woodbridge. Sea Hag is the No. 1-selling craft IPA in Connecticut.
The brewery development was announced by NEBCO executives and city and state leaders in West Haven on Nov. 1, 2021. The proposed multimillion-dollar project had been touted to create up to 100 jobs and generate hundreds of thousands in permit fees and long-term lease payments for the city.
According to city records, the Savin Rock Conference Center opened in April 1997 and closed for renovations in February 2019. The building, constructed in 1971, previously housed The Casino and Harbour Mist restaurants and originally Phyllis’ Restaurant.