ยป Star Brewery Finds Tenant

Stone Cliff Winery plans to use 10,000 feet for an expanded winery and tasting room.
M.D. Kittle | Telegraph Herald | March 23, 2006

A newly inked development deal would bring some port wine to the old Dubuque Star Brewery - a first step in the prolonged process of transforming the property into a riverfront hot spot.

Stone Cliff Winery would be the brewery's first tenant under a lease signed with Port of Dubuque Development, LLC, the local group of investors looking to revive the historic building.

The lease is contingent on the limited liability company reaching a development agreement with the city.

Durango, Iowa-based Stone Cliff plans to turn about 10,000 feet of the ground floor into an expanded winery and tasting room.

"We have outgrown our existing facility," said Bob Smith, Stone Cliff's co-owner. "It just made sense to be in the Port of Dubuque where things are happening."

The winery and its eight-acre vineyard, located on U.S. 52, has seen its sales climb 110-fold over the past four years, selling some 55,000 bottles of wine last year. The expanded port location would allow Stone Cliff, one of Iowa's biggest wineries, to double production, Smith said.

Wayne Briggs, lead investor in Port of Dubuque LLC, said the group is excited about the potential draw the winery would bring to the development project.

"It's a great fit and a reputable business and a great product," Briggs said.

The developers continue to pursue other potential tenants for the renovated space, including a microbrewery and restaurant. A dinner theater company also has expressed interest, Briggs said.

But the Stone Cliff deal could serve as a catalyst for future development, perhaps just what the long-overdue redevelopment project needs to move forward.

"My experience is any activity creates more interest," Briggs said. "As long as people see things happening down there, it should help spark other interest."

Sue Czeshinski sees the winery as a destination that will help usher in the second phase of the America's River project, Dubuque's riverfront facelift. Czeshinski, director of the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce's Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the winery would build on a growing tri-state tourist draw.

"Wine tasting and wine tours are becoming very popular in our area," she said. "People are beginning to refer to this area as the Napa Valley of the Midwest."

Well, Iowa might not have California cred when it comes to wine production, but the state has blossomed into a regional vino player. Smith said there were just a handful of wineries in the state when he and his wife planted their first grapevines in 1996. Today, there are more than 50, he said.

The Stone Cliff deal brings a touch of reality to a redevelopment project years in the making. Port of Dubuque LLC, earlier this year took the reins of the Star Brewery plan from the Madison, Wis.-based Alexander Co. The nationally renowned firm originally signed as the city's preferred developer in 2002 but could not land a tenant.

Smith has had his eye on the brewery for a while. Stone Cliff was in negotiations to purchase the property in 1998, Smith said, but the brewery was caught in a confusing ownership dispute. The city eventually acquired it following eminent domain proceedings.

The brewery project is missing one critical element, however - a final agreement between the city and the developer.

"We don't have a development agreement with the city yet, and this (winery project) is contingent on that," Briggs said, adding that he hopes a deal can be struck within the next few weeks.

"There are a few issues we need to work out," Briggs said, "but we feel the city has been fair with us in the past."

Briggs and his business partners have led a number of high-profile development projects - from the Hilton Garden Inn to the redevelopment of the former Weber Paper Co. building. Briggs and other investors also are in the process of tearing down the old Farmland Foods meatpacking plant, making space for a regional shopping center.

For more information, please contact:
Amy Wickham
Director of Retail Expansion
563-556-9049
amyw@greaterdubuque.org


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