New winery plans tasting, lodging, education
ROCK STREAM—Magnus Ridge Winery owners Matt and Sandy Downey from Cazenovia, plan to invest some $3 million to create a winery complex with lodging and winemaking education. A four phase plan is in place for the Route 14 property and the first phase, site preparation, is underway.
Construction of a new winery and additional plantings will follow with infrastructure for large events and rehabilitation of existing structures on the property next. The last phase is the addition of lodging, currently on the schedule for completion in 2014. Tours and educational materials on the Finger Lakes appellation, vineyard management and winemaking will also be offered at the facility.
The Downeys, who both have engineering backgrounds, began planting wine grape varieties in 2005 and have continued to plant additional varieties since then. A search for a good location for a tasting room resulted in purchase of the property south of Rock Stream in 2007. In a narrative included in an application for site plan review and a special use permit for the project, the Downeys said the project will combine elements of old world architecture with modern green technologies. The concept allows visitors to sample wines, walk and experience the vineyards as well as spend time at numerous outdoor venues. Tours and educational material on the Finger Lakes appellation, vineyard management and winemaking will be throughout the site.
The owners have requested a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). This is a process that, when approved, allows developers to delay payment of taxes in full during the early years of a project. Magnus Ridge Winery applied for a PILOT and part of that process was public hearing held July 16 in the Starkey Town Hall in Dundee. Cost of the four phase project is estimated at $2.92 million.
The hearing was conducted by Finger Lakes Economic Development Center representatives Steve Griffin and Ryan Hallings. Three people, all connected with town of Starkey government, attended the hearing. Planning board chairman George Lawson had several questions including why the owners need a PILOT. Griffin said anyone can apply, adding, “In this case we’re excited about the project. During phase two and three it starts to become a destination and will draw people here.”
Lawson said he didn’t question the owners’ intentions, but came back to his original question of why the owners needed a PILOT. He said, “When Glenora got their PILOT I saw it as a pretty nervy move, but when someone is starting another tasting room the others felt they were sound enough to not need a PILOT. Their numbers should work whether or not they get it.” Lawson asked what the total real estate savings would be as compared to a standard exemption. Griffin said in rough numbers about two times what they would be typically.
Discussion continued about the total savings to the owners over 10 years as compared to a standard commercial exemption. Griffin concluded the hearing, noting, “The good news is that they are putting in $3 million.” It is estimated $500,000 in goods would be purchased a year. Lawson commented, “If they don’t build we wouldn’t get the income anyhow.”
Establishing the project isn’t a quick process. Site plan and special use permits were approved by the Yates County Planning Board late in 2009.
The request for PILOT was to be part of the July 21 meeting of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center board.