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CUYAHOGA FALLS -- Mystery solved.
Al Klaben of Kent gave the answer to the question nagging so many about his lot on the corner of Front Street and Oak Park Boulevard: What is he building?
As it turns out, the property is being developed into a microbrewery and restaurant at 2821 Front St. that its owners hope to open by the end of this year or beginning of next year.
On April 17, Klaben told City Council he bought the former Holland Oil gas station on Front Street in 2011 to open a used car lot. Soon after the deal closed, he realized the lot lacked sufficient frontage, and he gathered from conversations with neighbors getting a variance would be difficult.
"So I wondered why I purchased the property," Klaben said.
"Within the next month or two I heard that they were going to take the dams out," he continued. "I thought this could become an attractive property not only from the street side but also from the river" which borders the eastern edge of his land. Klaben said that was when he began to envision how he could improve the appearance of the property.
"The question I've gotten every day since I started working on it is, 'What's this going to be?'" Klaben said. "We started off by making up stuff. Then we came up with some real stories that never materialized."
Klaben said when the city began talking about removing its two dams he started to hear a lot about kayaking becoming popular on the river, and he realized the state of his property would not attract kayakers. He said he knew if he was going to cater to those travelers on the river, he was going to have to make a way for them to come ashore and walk up to his establishment.
He cleaned up the property, a process which included removing trees behind the building. This made some of his neighbors unhappy, he said, and someone contacted the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) who paid Klaben a visit, the first of several, in March 2012, and told him he shouldn't have cut down trees in this area because it is a wetland, but because he left the stumps "it was OK."
"It's been a learning experience," Klaben said.
Klaben said he also cleaned out the river off of his property, pulling out three engine blocks, 53 old tires and so many car batteries he lost count. Because that work took him into the river, it brought on another visit by the ACE. Fortunately, he said, the city allowed him to "tack on" to the city's permit from the ACE to be in the river for cleanups. Klaben said through that permit he was able to go back into the river with equipment and clear away concrete and rebar that was left behind by a past bridge replacement project.
He went on to tell how he tried to plant grass on his hill and a subsequent downpour washed away topsoil he had hauled in a spread on the hill. That triggered a third visit by the ACE that was concerned about erosion in the wetland. Agreeing to haul away the topsoil, Klaben said he avoided a fine. Klaben then began building a retaining wall out of concrete. Requesting discarded sections of sidewalks from Silver Lake, the city and other sources, he was able to recycle more than 20 miles of sidewalk.
Klaben said he found a purpose for his property when his daughter, Kim McFarlane, told him she and her husband, Keith, and his three partners needed a home for their business, Missing Mountain Brewing Company. McFarlane said the name is inspired from their love of winter mountain sports. "Ten years ago we all considered moving west into Colorado, but we couldn't pull the trigger," he told the Falls News-Press. "We just love living in Northeast Ohio too much to justify moving out west. We have always said that we love the beauty and culture of this area but the only thing it was 'missing' for us was a 'mountain.'"
The next steps
Klaben said he needs additional space to erect a building to house Missing Mountain's brewing equipment. To encourage and facilitate economic development, the city is proposing to transfer the 25 foot wide parcel of land to the CIC, according to Diane Sheridan, the city's director of community development. The property is located at the northeast existing property line of 2821 Front St., she said.
The CIC will then sell the parcel of land to Mr. Klaben in an amount to cover all title work and any other miscellaneous expense that will ensure the city and the CIC are made whole, Sheridan said. "We anticipate the title work to be in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $3,000." Sheridan added CIC cannot make any profit on this property transfer; however should there be any profits, 100 percent of the profits would be returned to the city.
Sheridan said 2821 Front Street LLC, the name of Klaben's development company, also is requesting a 10-year, 50 percent tax abatement on a structure to contain manufacturing equipment for Missing Mountain Brewery Company as well as new improvements to the existing building. The manufacturing facility will supply the adjoining structure that will house a restaurant and tap room. The estimated amount to be invested by the enterprise to establish and occupy the structures is a little more than $1 million, she said.
With the abatement, Missing Mountain Brewery will open its manufacturing facility, restaurant and tap room on the corner of Front Street and Oak Park Boulevard. Immediate hiring will include two full-time and six part-time employees with an annual payroll of $250,000, the development director said. In addition to these employees, additional employees will be hired for such positions as laborers, retail sales and servers.
"Assuming an abatement is granted, the improvements are made and assuming a $300,000 increase in valuation; property taxes could increase from $5,000 annually to almost $9,000 annually, of which $5,800 will be directed to the Cuyahoga Falls City School District," Sheridan said.
City Council's next meeting is April 24 at 6:30 p.m. In the Natatorium, 2345 Fourth St.