LOCKPORT – A new winery to be operated by two Cambria women may open as soon as Memorial Day in Old City Hall, and the Common Council voted Wednesday to grant them $50,000 toward the start-up costs.
Flight of Five Winery and Local Food Market, as the business is to be known, is to be operated by Jacqueline R. Connelly, formerly of Niagara Landing Winery, and Julie Blackman of Blackman Homestead Farm. Blackman also operates the Farmers and Artisans local food store in Williamsville.
“Jackie is going to be the owner. I’m going to assist as the local food connection,” Blackman said.
The building, at 2 Pine St., is owned by Geise Properties of Newfane, whose principal, Dr. Scott D. Geise, a dentist, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison in 2010 for health insurance and tax fraud.
“He’s not getting the money,” City Planning and Development Director R. Charles Bell said of Geise.
Connelly said she’s leasing 1,850 square feet on the upper level of the section added to the building in 1893.
The source of the city’s grant was $50,000 in unspent “bed tax” revenue on hotel and motel bills. “This is not [property] taxpayer money,” Mayor Michael W. Tucker emphasized.
The winery on the Pine Street Bridge, directly overlooking the Erie Canal locks, will purchase grapes from other New York growers and make wine on the premises, Connelly said. Work on interior renovations already has begun.
“They’re aggressive. They have business savvy. They have business experience,” Bell said of Blackman and Connelly.
He said Connelly is investing $75,000 of her own money in the new business, which “will get this up and running without incurring any significant debt.”
“It will bring the [Niagara] Wine Trail into our city,” Tucker said. The business also will sell locally produced foods, including hard cider and other items made from produce grown at Blackman’s farm.
Connelly said she plans to make her business a “regional wine hub” for New York wines, as well as offering between five and 10 signature brands of her own.
The mayor said he was excited about having the Flight of Five Winery “right on top of the Flight of Five.”
That’s the original five stair-step locks of the Erie Canal, which are to be restored to working condition. Bids for reconstruction of two of the five locks are to be sought this summer, with construction in 2014.
The city collects a 4 percent tax on hotel and motel bills. After taking 5 percent off the top for administrative expenses, the city sends 75 percent of what’s left to the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.
The city’s 25 percent economic development share has been tapped for $17,500 a year by Lockport Main Street Inc., a downtown promotional agency whose funding is guaranteed through 2014.
After that, an average of $7,500 a year is left. Bell said the city Bed Tax Committee, which is supposed to parcel it out, hasn’t met in years, so the money has been accumulating.
The Council voted to resuscitate the committee with seven members: Tucker, City Treasurer Michael E. White, an alderman, a county legislator, a member of the Greater Lockport Development Corp., a member of the city Tourism Task Force, and “a representative of the community.”