- Ed Richter Staff Writer
Plans to transform a vacant Middletown building into a brewery and hotel are on hold, according to the developer behind the project.
A lack of support from the city is among the reasons William Grau said he is putting the Snider Building microbrewery and Manchester Hotel projects on hold. However, city leaders say Grau is expecting too much financial support from the city to keep his project afloat.
“The Manchester Hotel and Snider Building/Brewery are currently on hold pending an increase in outside support and interest in the projects … ” Grau said in an email. The Illinois-based developer also said he is considering selling both properties.
For the second time in the past several months, Grau did not submit an application for Ohio tax credits. Last spring, Grau opted not to submit the tax credit application for Manchester Hotel, saying the strategy then was to get the microbrewery in Snider Building up and running first to create a destination venue before starting the hotel portion of the project.
When asked what has been the biggest challenge in getting the financing secured so these projects can move forward, Grau said, “selling downtown Middletown.”
“The fact that the city seems to be focusing all their efforts on the I-75 interchange and neglecting the downtown is very disappointing,” Grau said.
That could not be further from the truth, according to Denise Hamet, Middletown’s economic development director.
“The city continues to invest and support economic development efforts in all parts of the city,” she said. “For example, we are working to enhance and expand the airport; we are completing multiple phases of roadway improvement of Yankee Road and are coordinating fiber installation in the area; we are supporting the NTE Energy plant installation along Cincinnati Dayton Road; we are working with Towne Mall owners to facilitate redevelopment, and we are working with landowners east of Interstate 75 to get their sites shovel ready and also are supporting a new gas station project that will soon be underway.”
Hamet said those were only a few of the projects Middletown is working on to drive development forward.
“We know that there are many aspects of economic development, including quality of life, infrastructure, workforce development, transportation, and available sites,” she said. “A revitalized urban area is a great tool to attract millennials, it attracts tourists, and also provides services supporting businesses and residents.”
Downtowns with characteristics such as Middletown’s — including older buildings and a location removed from a major highway — requires a special type of investor, said Rick Pearce, president and CEO of The Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton.
“The challenge would be identifying those investors and introducing them to downtown’s potential,” he said.
This setback won’t stop the positive momentum the city is working to foster, Pearce said, citing the new AK Steel Research and Innovation Center, the new home of Cincinnati Eye Institute on the campus of Atrium Medical Center, the Nicholas Apartment complex on the east end, the COHEN expansion of a e-recycling at their South Verity Boulevard location, and the new businesses opening at Towne Mall.
Grau said he also could not get grants from Duke Energy or interest from JobsOhio and the Ohio Department of Development for the projects. The state development department oversees job creation and the historic tax credit programs.
Both buildings are structurally sound, according to Grau, and roof leaks have been repaired. Ongoing inspections and repairs are being completed as necessary, he said.
In the past year, Grau has run into snags getting through the pre-application process with the State Historic Preservation Office to get the projects cleared to allow the historic tax credits application to be submitted.
As for Middletown’s role, city staff will continue discussions with Grau about the project, according to City Manager Doug Adkins.
“The project remains an important part of downtown redevelopment efforts and the city remains committed to the project,” he said.
“We have dedicated considerable staff time and energy to supporting the Manchester Inn and brewery projects, and we are in compliance with our development agreement commitments to the project,” Adkins said. “The developer is currently asking for significant additional financial commitments from the city to make the project happen that are well beyond the development agreement.”