Summit Mall owner proposes new brewery

John Robinson of Big Thunder Brewing Co. poses with a copy of the new company's logo. They plan to set up shop inside the former Summit Park Mall.  

The newly formed Big Thunder Brewing Company may be the next business to take a chance on the old Summit Park Mall.

Wheatfield officials and residents heard from John Robinson, a principal for company and a partner of Canadian developer Zoran Cocov, the mall’s current owner, at the town board’s regular meeting on Monday. He presented plans for a new brewery, tasting room and teaching establishment, proposed to be located within the largely vacant Williams Road shopping center.

"We’re going to put a tap room in," he said. "About 90 percent of the brewery is going to be a whole sale, in which we're going to have one or two different distributers in Western New York distribute our beer. We’ll also have a tasting room so that the public can have an opportunity to taste out different brands and we’ll have seasonal brands and things like that."

In total, Robinson estimated that the project would come with a price tag of $3.2 million to $3.3 million. The company is seeking assistance through the Wheatifeld Local Development Corporation to help secure funding via the state Office of Community Renewal’s Community Development Block Grant program. Being approved for such funding requires that a company’s plan includes job creation and the amount of funding is related to that number. The maximum amount they could apply for is $750,000. 

Wheatfield Supervisor Robert Cliffe said that the brewery part of the project would involve the creation of 10 to 15 new jobs, but those figures had not been given for the other components of the project. If the funding is applied for and received, money would be given to the town, which would then work with the LDC to administer it to the company. 

Robinson said the company is expecting to install $1.8 million in brewing equipment and an additional $600,000 to $700,000 in renovations. He also noted that the smaller teaching brewery could potentially be utilized by Niagara Country Community College students who are enrolled in the school’s relatively new brewery program. It would also give the students a venue where they can complete their required 500 internship hours.

“They just started a brewing program last fall, because they don’t have a brewery, they've been having maybe a little bit slower uptake in interest in their brewing program," he said. "Though they’re not committed 100 percent right now, we want to keep the door open for them in the future.”

Meanwhile, two sporting domes, which are also planned for the mall, are expected to dramatically increase foot traffic to the facility, which is anticipated to have a positive effect on the potential dining and drinking establishment. Robinson said that project is expected to bring 600,000 to 700,000 people to the mall annually, which currently only has three stores — Sears, Bon Ton and Save-A-Lot.

If the board choses to go ahead with the application process, it would be only the second project tackled by the town’s LDC. The first was an expansion effort from exercise equipment manufacturer Jacobs Ladder. The company relocated from North Tonawanda's Wurlitzer building to Walmore Road last year, allowing them to grow both their job count and their operations in general. 

"That has been very successful," said Chuck Bell, a consultant on the brewery project. "All the investment is complete, the original job creation that was proposed, the threshold job creation that was need to sustain the grant and to make it worth while from the state's perspective, has already been exceeded and they continue to hire." 

Cliffe said it would be "exciting" to see something like this happening at the mall. If all goes according to plan he thinks it would be a good addition to the town.

"I can't envision it not being a good fit, if it works as they have envisioned it," he said. "It sounds all very positive."  

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