For some businesses, DRI grants would speed upgrades
Williams brothers hope to do 15 years of work in 2-3 for bar, clothier buildings
SARANAC LAKE — The Williams brothers, owners of two prominent downtown businesses, are also the sponsors of two Downtown Revitalization Initiative project proposals.
These projects — for Bitters & Bones bar at 65 Broadway and T.F. Finnigan’s men’s clothing store at 79 Main St. — were selected by the Local Planning Committee, along with 17 other projects, for a chance to share in a nearly $10 million grant package that the state awarded the village in August 2018.
This project list contains $14.5 million in DRI requests; of that, the state will select $9.7 million for funding by. Awards have previously been announced in the summer, though there is no set deadline for an announcement.
Johnny and Jimmy Williams own Bitters along with Osita Ezumah. They opened the tavern in 2015 at the site of the former Captain Cook’s Bar and Grill. In August 2018 the Williams brothers bought the historic T.F. Finnigan’s from Tom Finnigan, whose family had owned and operated the business for three generations.
“Left to our own devices, we would plug away at these small tasks over time,” Johnny said of the proposed upgrades to their two locations. “But this forced us to look at everything we would want to do in a perfect world, if we had the opportunity.”
The timeline for both projects would otherwise take between 10 and 15 years to complete, but if funded through the DRI, the brothers said they’d be able to get the upgrades and renovations done in two to three years.
“One of the coolest parts of the DRI is, if it comes through for us, we’re really dedicated to riding this wave that Saranac Lake is on right now. There’s a clear energy and upward kind of movement,” Johnny said. “It will let us really push that forward.”
Bitters & Bones
The primary sponsor of this project is Johnny. It would add a small-scale brewing operation on the second floor, a rooftop deck on both the front of the building and the back, kitchen and appliance upgrades, and renovations to the interior of the building to improve accessibility.
“So as far as we’re concerned here at Bitters, it’s a large swath of projects we’re talking about, and the primary one that has us all excited is the small-scale brewery,” Johnny said.
It was out of this new downtown brewing operation that the rest of the project grew in scope, said project co-sponsor Amanda Lavigne.
“If we’re going to have a brewery, then we want people to have a nice place to sit outside in the sun,” Lavigne said.
Additionally, with the tavern situated at the corner of Bloomingdale Avenue and Broadway — two entrances to downtown, Lavigne said the idea is to establish a more visible, outdoor vibe for the warmer seasons.
“So when you’re sitting at the light, you can see people eating and drinking and hear some music,” Lavigne said, “like the Thursday Night Art Walks or the (Waterhole bar’s) Party on the Patio that we’ve got in spades at the other end of the street.”
They’ve estimated that the brewing operation, expanded seating and kitchen upgrades would result in around 15 new hires: bar staff, kitchen staff, servers, cleaners and brewers.
The total project cost is $740,000, with a DRI funding request of $381,500.
The primary sponsor of this project is Jimmy. It would see renovations to the rear facade of the 119-year-old building and commercial space on the back end facing the Dorsey Street parking lot, along with renovations to the two residential spaces on the upper floors of the building.
“We’re trying our best to preserve the building so that it lasts for another 120 years,” Jimmy said. “Through all of our research, it’s the oldest business that has remained active in the same location in Saranac Lake. … We do care about history and didn’t want to see that lost.”
The work on the rear facade and commercial space is an effort to work with that area’s concentration of DRI projects, Jimmy said. These other DRI project proposals include finishing the River Walk, upgrades to the Dorsey Street parking lot and the establishment of a whitewater park on the Saranac River below the Route 3 bridge.
The rear commercial space wouldn’t sell Finnegan’s products, according to current plans.
“I think we’d like to have a new business in town that we would probably allow someone else to run,” Jimmy said, “to create those new jobs and to affect that back area with some new life.”
The project’s other focus is the renovation of the two apartments: one with three bedrooms and one with four. Jimmy said the owners are doing deep cleaning and spot repairs to these apartments, which are currently unoccupied. The second-floor apartments were just finished, Jimmy said, and he is looking to start on the third floor on Monday.
Lavigne said the overall goal is to return them to their former glory, something that would not be a financial possibility in the short term without the DRI. That means restoring the original crown molding and windows, as well as work that must be done on the floors and partitions.
Will they remain as long-term residences or become short-term vacation rentals?
“I don’t think we’ll ever label them as short or long,” Jimmy said. “If the right tenant came along, we would not be opposed to long term. But we’re also going to give the opportunity to families that need more space and families from out of town with pets to come and stay and live in the village. … It’ll be mixed use.”
The total project cost is $445,450, with a DRI funding request of $219,250.