- Eric Schwartzberg Staff Writer
Ami Vitori purchased a 38,000-square-foot building at 1131 Central Ave. in downtown Middletown last Friday to create a “destination corner” for dining, retail and entertainment on the street level.
That level’s $250,000 renovation effort launched this week and is clearing the way for Gracie’s, an “upscale comfort food-type restaurant” named after Vitori’s grandmother.
Also in the early stages of planning are a wellness and yoga studio and an indoor children’s play place, plus 1,000 square feet of “ready-to-go” retail space.
“I feel like there’s a lot of great things going on that I didn’t want to have just a storefront,” she said. “I want to make this a whole corner destination, where people are going to drive 20 to 30 minutes here as opposed to the reverse.”
Vitori said she is focused on renovating the street level in the coming few months so that there are retail-ready spaces for lease.
Build-out of the restaurant should start by late summer with an opening set to occur before year’s end, she said.
Vitori said she wants to preserve the “great set-up” TV Middletown left behind on the second floor by approaching local schools and universities about using the built-out studio space and extensive film, editing and broadcast equipment.
Planning for the third floor is still in the works, she said.
The building, which will also get a makeover to its front-facing facade, will be known as Torchlight Pass.
“The idea (behind the name) is … that history of Middletown and what’s so great about where we’ve come from but kind of moving now into this new, modern, progressed future version of what Middletown could be. So it’s paying homage to the old, but kind of knowing what we want to do moving forward.
Born and raised in Middletown, Vitori’s family history is interwoven with the city’s own. Her grandparents ran Vitori’s Market in Mayfield and her great-grandfather started Amatulli’s Produce, which is still in operation today.
“My heart has always been in Middletown,” she said. “I have lots of ideas for helping our community and lots of energy to get it done. It’s going to take both.”
After high school, Vitori spent more than two decades away from Middletown, 10 of them in Los Angeles as a movie producer and eight years in Washington, D.C., with Vitori Trend, a branding and strategic communications firm she still runs. She said she knew she would return to family in Middletown with husband Kevin Kimener and their three sons.
“I just knew there would be something in Middletown to be part of the revitalization, so I started coming downtown a lot because that’s where a lot of the new businesses are starting,” she said.
She said she fell in love with the building’s size, corner location and the abundant amount of outdoor space it afforded.
It also helps that she looked into the project at a time city officials and organizations are partnering with entrepreneurs both in and outside of Middletown to spur revitalization efforts in the area.
“To me there were just a lot of things that felt like they were percolating, and … the next six months to a year could be the tipping point,” she said.
Mallory Greenham, executive director for former tenant Downtown Middletown Inc., said the thought of vibrant downtown districts tends to evoke the image of densely populated areas with diverse business offerings.
“Torchlight Pass’ plans to renovate first floor space that was primarily used for office space to return retail and restaurant space to downtown Middletown will no doubt, once completed, contribute to an increase in both,” Greenham said.