The building at 109 E. Grand River Ave. is set to house a new pub through efforts of the Downtown Development Authority
By Jessica Whitmill
Williamston Watercooler Staff Writer
The Downtown Development Authority’s most recent project is renovating the “109 Building” in the heart of downtown into a microbrewery.
The pub is set to move into the building by June 2011, said Steve Eyke, developer and member of the DDA’s board of directors.
The project started in September 2010 and the building has been renovated from the inside out and is nearly 85% complete.
“My goal is to bring back the original looks of the building,” Eyke said. “The architecture provides the perfect atmosphere for a brewing pub. I worked on the east coast for a few years and fell in love with the architecture… I wanted to bring some of those assets into Williamston. The outside façade is completely different than it was just a year ago.”
Eyke said he suspects the microbrewery will be very successful, with a nationally recognized chef, Eric Villegas, bringing his talents to the pub.
Customers will view on-site brewing, enjoy the homemade beers and even take classes in cooking and brewing.
Community Development Consultant Greg Milliken said the top two floors of the building are also under construction. Two spaces were already leased as condominiums, and four are still available as one bedroom apartments.
“The space is providing affordable housing, which is terrific,” he said.
Federal grants provided funding for the project. The city applied for three grants and received this much from these people, this much from these people and this much from these people. In the end, the city had to come up with this much money on its own.
“Each organization has grant programs out there that help with buildings in financial distress,” Eyke said. “It [the 109 building] is a key structure in our historic downtown but it had no economic life. The cost to rehabilitate it would have exceeded any possible income. So with these grants, the city of Williamston was able to get money to buy the building.”
Eyke also said the microbrewery will create jobs downtown.
“The grants require job creation and matching funds,” he said. “If we didn’t create jobs we would have to pay the money back. Only a restaurant type of business can generate that many jobs.”
A BETTER DOWNTOWN
However, downtown improvements are not funded solely by federal grants, but through a tax increment system that allows the DDA to collect any revenue on increased property taxes.
Milliken said any money funneled into the DDA can only be re-invested on the downtown. The city focuses on things like “public safety, streets and planning the rest of the community.”
DDA Chairperson Barbara Vandenburg said some of the DDA’s major projects have been façade improvements to downtown structures and McCormick Park renovations that included new restrooms, a parking lot and opening up the waterway for canoers.
In the spring, the DDA will complete its “Four Corners” project on S. Putnam Street, after renovations have already been done to both sides of Grand River Avenue and N. Putnam Street.
Vandenberg said changes will include new concrete, sidewalks, LED street lighting and new benches and trash cans.
Milliken said the DDA is creating a “brand or identity” for the city.
“We ask questions like ‘What’s the image, the brand of downtown Williamston? Who is that we want to be? What’s the best way to market that brand? Who do we need to target to bring in more consumers and businesses?’”
“But the brand is ultimately defined by the people,” he said. “Williamston is a great, traditional small town. A traditional core downtown, I think, is the backbone that you start from.”