SPARTA — A project to move a microbrewery from the outskirts of Sparta to the heart of the village downtown got a shot in the arm yesterday thanks to a state grant.
Cellar Brewing Co. started soliciting investors more than a year ago to support its plans to redevelop the two buildings that housed the former Momber’s HomeTown Pharmacy at 133 Division St. in Sparta, about a half-mile west of the brewery’s current location on the same road.
This week, the Michigan Strategic Fund approved a $250,000 performance-based Community Revitalization Program grant to support the project, which the agency said would bring “significant foot traffic and additional economic activity to the downtown,” according to a statement.
The village also kicked in $110,000 in a facade grant from its Downtown Development Authority.
The move would allow Cellar Brewing to expand and have its own kitchen that would offer Irish and American comfort food, as MiBiz previously reported. Over the last year, work on the project appears to have gotten off to a slow start, although interior demolition activity — visible from the sidewalk — has ramped up in recent weeks. Owner Chuck Brown did not respond to requests for comment before this report was published.
Elizabeth Morse, the director of the Sparta Downtown Development Authority, told MiBiz the facade grant will go to help improvements along Division Street, where Cellar Brewing plans to reface the structures and add large windows and roll-up doors “that will create — during the nice months — an open-air atmosphere between the restaurant and the sidewalk.”
Cellar Brewing was expected to invest nearly $1.9 million in the project and create 19 full-time jobs, according to a statement from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Previously, Brown told MiBiz that the new pub would offer a more welcoming atmosphere with improved natural lighting. The company, which Dan Humphrey founded in 2009 as Michigan Beer Cellar LLC and sold to Brown in 2013, brewed 406 barrels of beer last year, according to state records. The move will also allow the brewery, distillery and winemaker to expand and better reach out to the West Michigan market.
“We have found that this area is very responsive to our beer,” Brown said in a previous report. “We have done well in our current location — not as well as I would like, but we’ve done well.”
Morse said the facade grant was one of the largest projects the DDA has worked on in recent years, but noted that the brewery could serve as a catalyst to encourage further momentum in the village downtown area.
“Cellar is perfect fit for this location and our downtown area to create this foot traffic. Breweries are the hip thing and people will travel for them,” Morse said. “Chuck has certainly proven his abilities.”
In another large renovation in the downtown, Choice One Bank plans to completely remodel its headquarters at 109 E. Division Street in a project that started in May and will wrap up by the end of the year.
Morse said the new investments in the village are helping create vibrancy in the community that struggled in the recession, but has been on an upward trajectory.
“We’re in a long 20-year plan to bring life back to (vacant) properties from a downtown standpoint,” Morse said, noting that private investment, housing and the local job market have started to improve in recent months. “Every piece has started to grow and play its own part in growing the downtown.”
The MEDC also announced funding for four other projects. They included:
• $391,000 in Community Development Block Grants for facade improvements to four buildings in a “significant transformation of the downtown” in Zeeland that will “serve as a catalyst for future investment.” The grants leverage more than $254,000 in private investment.
• $275,000 in Business Development Program performance-based grants for Owosso-based National Composites LLC to take over making composite marine components and fiberglass paddle boats from Owosso Composite LLC. A supplier to Crest Marine, National Composites formed this year and is investing $1.6 million and expects to create 76 new jobs in moving to a larger facility in Owosso Charter Township.
• $196,995 in Community Development Block Grants for facade improvements to three buildings in downtown Laingsburg in Shiawassee County, which are expected to spur $196,995 in private investment.
• $998,000 in “collateral support” for Fifth Third Bank to increase the revolving line of credit for Mt. Pleasant-based MRB Enterprise Inc., the parent company of TTS Logistics, Beard Oil Distributing and ML Transit Transportation. The company plans to expand its services for pipeline development projects.