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A Connecticut brewery plans a new shoreline location

West Haven Officials 2021.jfif
City of West Haven
West Haven officials outside the Savin Rock Conference Center. A brewery is planned at the shoreline site.

After announcing earlier this year plans to relocate to a “forever home” by Fair Haven’s industrial waterfront, New England Brewing Co. took a big step this week towards building a new brewery—in West Haven instead.

West Haven city and state officials made that announcement Tuesday in a press release posted to their city website, and in a separate email press release sent out by West Haven State Sen. James Maroney.

Developer Doug Gray, who plans to build NEBCO’s new West Haven brewery, and New Haven city Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli confirmed NEBCO’s plans to move to West Haven — marking the end to NEBCO’s previous plans to set up shop on River Street, where New Haven has worked for years to revive a largely abandoned former factory district. (See more on that below.)

According to those press releases, West Haven officials joined the craft brewery’s owner and directors Monday to celebrate NEBCO’s planned move from its current headquarters in Woodbridge.

NEBCO plans to build a new two-story, 52,000-square-foot craft brewery at the site of the former Savin Rock Conference Center on the Long Island Sound.

“We’ve been looking for the right place to move our brewery for a few years now, and not just to any city, but the right place, so we’re excited to share that we’ll be moving New England Brewing Company here to West Haven,” NEBCO Director of Business Development Marty Juliano is quoted as saying in Sen. Maroney’s press release. “I’m excited to be bringing a new production facility, taproom, and event space to this beautiful waterfront property.”

Wait ... What About Fair Haven?

During a June Development Commission meeting, Juliano and NEBCO Owner Rob Leonard joined city Deputy Economic Development Administrator Steve Fontana and New Canaan-based developer Doug Gray to detail plans for a new 80,000 square-foot brewery, tap room, and event space for the vacant former-industrial lot on River Street.

That 10-acre, city-owned site between Lloyd Street and Blatchley Avenue formerly housed a Hess oil terminal.

As discussed at that June Development Commission meeting and at a previous Fair Haven Community Management Team meeting, the city planned to sell 7.3 acres of that site (all of the 142 River St. address and a portion of 100 River St.) to New Canaan-based developer Doug Gray of Eclipse Development, who in turn planned to build a new roughly 80,000 square-foot building for NEBCO to relocate to.

“I never, ever want to move again,” NEBCO’s Leonard said during that meeting. “It’s a long-term lease. We plan to be here 30 years and beyond. ... I consider NEBCO New Haven’s brewery.”

Developer: “Time Kills All Deals”

So. What happened to the New Haven deal?

Depends whom you ask.

Gray—a New Canaan-based developer who recently sold his way out of the still-unbuilt 201 Munson development, who had worked on NEBCO’s Fair Haven brewery plans, and who is now working on NEBCO’s West Haven brewery plans—said that the main problem lay with the city’s Economic Development Administration.

He said that the city’s economic development team dragged its feet in negotiating the final terms of a planned Development and Land Disposition Agreement (DLDA) for River Street.

“We’ve been waiting over three-and-a-half months for comments on the DLDA,” he said. “We started this whole mess in January with the understanding that [the city] understands that time is of the essence. We would have had time if they had actually moved with any alacrity.”

Asked if there were any particular sticking points in NEBCO’s negotiations with the city, Gray said there were none. The issue was a lack of timely communication from the city, he maintained. “We wasted 10 months on River Street. It would have been a great site. But things were just logjammed.”

Gray said that NEBCO hopes to open the new West Haven brewery by Labor Day 2022. He said West Haven city officials have enthusiastically embraced the plans, and have promised to help provide enough parking for the facility.

“They need to understand that time kills all deals,” he said about New Haven’s economic development team.

Piscitelli: “Incredibly Disappointing”; Wishes NEBCO “All Success”

City Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli declined to respond to Gray’s accusations that the city had been slow in responding during DLDA negotiations with NEBCO.

He did praise NEBCO as a “great Connecticut brand, a wonderful company.” And, while “it didn’t work out on River Street, which is incredibly disappointing,” he wished NEBCO “all success” at its pending new West Haven home.

Piscitelli said it’s too soon to tell what the end of NEBCO’s Fair Haven plans means for the future of 100/142 River St.

“We still have work to do with Hess” to close out the environmental remediation of that city-owned site, he said.

Mayor Justin Elicker, meanwhile, directly disputed Gray’s claims that the city was the source of delay. “Mr. Gray’s comments are simply not accurate and it’s unfortunate he is misrepresenting city staff’s work,” the mayor told the Independent. “We have always been enthusiastic about this project and work hard to ensure developers have the expedient support of our team.”

Piscitelli said that New Haven is still working on the terms of a separate proposed DLDA with the Shelton-based Jaigantic Studios for city-owned properties at 46-56 River St. and 112 River St. Jaigantic has announced plans to relocate to River Street, build 25 sound stages, and transform the derelict former industrial riverfront into a bustling creative district.

River Street will also soon be home to Armada Brewing, which won City Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals approval earlier this year to build a new small brewery and taproom at a renovated former Bigelow Boiler Factory building at 190 River St.

NEBCO’s Juliano declined to comment for this story.