Believing that the City of Batavia is "on the rebound," entrepreneur Matthew Gray said he and partner Matt Boyd are eager to transform the former J.J. Newberry building downtown into a residential and commercial success.
Gray and Boyd are partners in AGRV Properties Inc., which will be creating the Batavia Brewing Co. and -- as City Planning & Development Committee members found out on Tuesday night -- seven apartments on the second and third floors of the vacant building at 109-111 Main St.
Gray was unable to vote on the special use permit request to convert the upper two floors into dwelling units since he is on the planning committee. But he was willing to talk about the venture afterward.
The committee did vote in favor of the project, which has an expected price tag of around $1.5 million in construction costs and also involves plans to have the building put on the National Register of Historic Places.
When it was mentioned that Gray must be pretty confident in Batavia to make this type of investment, he replied that "we were confident in Batavia to move back here in 2007 (from North Carolina and take over ownership of Alex's Place restaurant on Park Road), and we're confident now..."
"We really think that Batavia is on the rebound."
Nicholas Ryder, job captain for TRM Architect in Buffalo, provided details to the planning committee, stating that there will be four apartments (one- and two-bedroom) on the second floor and three on the third floor. The average size of the units will be around 800 square feet, with one to be about 1,400 square feet. The total space of the building is around 27,000 square feet.
Ryder said his firm is working with the city manager's office on a parking plan -- eyeing lots on Center, Court and Jackson streets -- and will be putting out bids for some exterior modification.
As far as the interior is concerned, he said they have discovered significant historical elements -- walls and ceilings of bead board and decorative wood wilth finite ribbing, for example -- that will not be tampered with per historical registry requirements.
"There also is existing chain link, pendant-like fixtures and milk-glass dome fixtures that trickle throughout the entire building," he said.
Ryder added that historic preservation rules prohibit the altering of hallways and doorways.
Gray said he doesn't expect any problems attracting tenants, noting that "everyone who goes through" the building has given it rave reviews.
Julie Pacatte, coordinator of the Batavia Development Corp. that is steering the project, said the monthly rental rate for the one-bedroom apartments can not exceed $1,142 and the monthly rate for the two-bedroom units can not exceed $1,371.
She said that rates are capped at 90 percent of the median income in Genesee County due to the fact that grant funding is being made available through the state Office of Community Renewal's New York Main Street Program.
The Batavia Brewing Co. will be the anchor tenant, with its brewing tanks in the basement viewable to patrons at the first-floor pub and eatery. The first floor also will contain two as-yet-to-be-selected "freshLAB" concessionaires -- hopeful restaurateurs offering unique menu items. Gray said he hopes to begin construction by January and be open by next summer.
In other action, as expected, the planning committee held a public hearing in connection with a revised city sign code, and sent its recommendation for approval to City Council.
Prior to the unanimous vote, however, it heard from Guy Clark, owner of Cedar Street Sales & Rentals, who said he objected to the regulation that the message on electronic digital signs could be changed only once every hour. Clark had appeared before City Council on the same issue about a year ago.
"I had requested that the frequency be four to five seconds," Clark said. "Now I saw the once-per-hour, and know that every school and church change their messages every two seconds, and include graphics."
Clark went on to say that digital signs have not caused any accidents or incidents, and he just wants to be able to change his message more frequently.
City Code Enforcement Officer Doug Randall stated that changeable text signs are permitted only on state routes (with the exception of downtown), and that the code -- as currently written -- does not permit these types of signs on Cedar Street.
The city planners' recommendation, along with Clark's comments, will be forwarded to City Council to be placed on its conference agenda and, per City Manager Jason Molino, another public hearing will be scheduled in January or February.
City planners and the Genesee County Planning Board worked together to revamp the city sign code with an emphasis on readability and streamlining the procedural process (see a previous story on The Batavian).