Middletown micro-distillery plans downtown site

City Council will discuss sale of proposed site on March 1

In the meantime, owner Mike Robinette plans to initially open the micro-distillery operation in another 4,000-square-foot building two properties away at 1357 Central Ave. in late June. The distilling of alcohol itself likely will start in late May.

“We’re calling the business Liberty Spirits purposely, because we’re going to build on the American Revolution era and in particular Patrick Henry, and his famous speech, ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,’” said Robinette, a former Middletown city employee who is owner/broker at Geo CRE Commercial Real Estate in Hamilton, and owner of Liberty Spirits.

“We’re going to produce un-aged products, including vodka, gin, what they call light whisky or moonshine, we’ll have some flavored moonshine, and then we’ll do aged bourbon and whisky,” Robinette said.

“Some of the large manufacturers are calling their products small-batch, but we’ll be truly ‘small batch,’” Robinette said. “We’ll be at a price point that is affordable, yet it’ll be a high-quality, small-batch, hand-crafted product.”

“I’d say I visited probably 30 craft distilleries in the Midwest, talking to owners and people who had developed them,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to make something, but I never really found anything that I was passionate about making until I came across this, so we ran with it.”

Costs to Middletown

Middletown City Council, which has heard from people concerned about opening of another alcohol-serving establishment downtown, will consider the sale to Liberty Spirits at its March 1 meeting.

In May, 2010, City Council authorized the purchase of 1316 Vail from a custom-cabinetry company for $90,000, and that cost was paid from city government’s downtown fund, City Manager Doug Adkins told council.

There’s a large hole in the roof, and all the wiring, plumbing and heating equipment have been stripped from the building, which is filled with trash. The city once planned to raze it.

The proposed sale also includes a grassy area facing Central Avenue, which came to the city from when a pub building was forfeited to the state for non-payment of taxes, and that property was deeded to the city at no cost. Other land in the deal used to be occupied by Apostle of River of Power ministries’ building next door, which was purchased for $100,000, using U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recession grants that were intended to stimulate the economy. The pub and ministry buildings were demolished by O’Rourke Wrecking for $115,000, which was also paid for by federal Neighborhood Stabilization Programs funds and HUD grants.

So in total, “the two demolished buildings and the two vacant lots have no local dollars spent on acquisition and demolition,” Adkins said. And since the demolitions, the city has spent $3,144 mowing the empty lots.

“The building on Vail has a three-foot hole in the roof and has been exposed to the elements for some time,” Adkins said. He said the county auditor’s office lists the property’s value at $79,950, which he considered to be “on the high side,” given its condition.

Between purchase of the building at 1357 Central Ave. and renovations and equipment for it and the one at 1316 Vail, Robinette expects to spend about $400,000.

Under the proposed deal with Liberty Spirits, “if the property is not completely developed by Dec. 31, 2016, he will be in default of the agreement,” and if that were to happen, the city could give him notice that the property would revert to city government within 60 days if work isn’t finished, Adkins said. The real estate cannot be transferred to anyone else during the agreement.

“That was our attempt to make sure that it got done, or that the building came back to the city,” said Adkins.

Hurt or help for downtown?

Adkins told council he’s heard questions from the public “about the intelligence of adding another bar downtown, and the fact that it might hurt existing business.”

But,”the concept for downtown has always been to create a destination that caters to many different interests,” Adkins said.

Just as Walgreens and CVS locate on the same intersections, or Home Depot and Lowe’s spring up next to each other, “this would be a clustering of drinking establishments, with the hope that with the operating designated outdoor refreshment area, whether you drink beer, wine or distilled liquor — or coffee — downtown is hopefully where you want to come to get your drink of choice,” Adkins said.

During the summer, Robinette said, “We’ll have a modest-sized tasting room and retail space in that property until we’re able to gain ownership of the building that’s one building away from ours that has a Vail (Avenue) address.”

When the Vail property is finished later in the year, “our plan there is to enlarge the tasting and retail space, and move it over there, and then there’s a bill pending in the (Ohio) legislature that will allow craft distillers to have bars similar to the way craft wineries and craft breweries can now,” Robinette said. “If we’re able to get that legislation passed, we’ll open a full bar there, in addition to the tasting room and retail space.”

Robinette said he plans to redo the facade of the Vail building that faces Central and put the entrances there, with a covered porch between the building and Central becoming an outdoor entertainment area.

Council Member Talbott Moon asked whether the city could put the property out for bid. Adkins said the city could do that, but there has been no other interest expressed in the property, whereas Liberty Spirits is “ready to take ownership and move forward immediately.”

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