By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
The City Council on Aug. 31 unanimously approved a lease agreement between the city and Rock Street Brewery LLC that would relocate New England Brewing Co. to the former Savin Rock Conference Center site at 6 Rock St., Mayor Nancy R. Rossi announced.
“NEBCO will be an invaluable addition to our community, and I am grateful for the City Council’s unanimous approval of the project,” Rossi said. “This sends a clear signal to developers that West Haven is not only ripe for development but is eager to embrace it!”
The 60-year ground lease allows for the city to maintain ownership of the 4-acre property while allowing developer Doug Gray, the principal of the Delaware-based limited liability company, to demolish the existing conference center and construct a 46,165-square-foot building that would include a brewery, a taproom and event space.
Within its footprint, the new building would incorporate the Savin Rock Museum, which occupies the conference center’s basement, and preserve the museum’s artifacts from the 20th-century amusement park.
According to the agreement, Gray will pay the city rent and serve as the brewery’s landlord at its “forever home” on the Savin Rock shoreline overlooking Long Island Sound.
On Nov. 1, 2021, the Woodbridge craft brewery announced a tentative lease agreement with the city in front of the conference center, where Marty Juliano, NEBCO’s director of business development, heralded the news with city and state officials, including Rossi, Sen. James J. Maroney, D-Milford, and Rep. Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven.
Juliano, a native of West Haven, was joined by Connecticut Brewers Guild Executive Director Phil Pappas and NEBCO founder Rob Leonard, Director of Operations John Dieli, Director of Brewing Operations Greg Radawich and Director of Sales and Marketing Jamal Robinson.
NEBCO, founded by Leonard in Woodbridge in 2002, brews Sea Hag and other popular India pale ales.
Gray said he hopes to complete the more than $23 million brewery project within a year.
In its first year, the project is estimated to generate $500,000 in lease payments and permit fees for the city.
The lease agreement calls for an annual rent of $106,000 per year for the first five years before increasing over the next 50 years.
Rossi praised the agreement and thanked NEBCO for choosing the prime West Haven site to brew its craft beer line, including Sea Hag, the No. 1-selling craft IPA in Connecticut.
The mayor said she always supported a long-term lease for the waterfront location and never entertained selling “one of the most beautiful pieces of property” in the city.
The brewery’s move from 175 Amity Road in Woodbridge to a larger site at 6 Rock St. is expected to create up to 100 jobs, Juliano said.
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.