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Lewis to develop Jefferson winery and restaurant along river

Time:2019-08-20 22:27wine - Red wine life health Click:

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The former Rock Bottom Tavern and Restaurant in Jefferson is slated to be redeveloped into a winery and restaurant, named Stable Rock Winery, targeted to open to the public in late spring or early summer of 2020.

The Jefferson Common Council on Tuesday unanimously accepted a commercial offer to purchase the property, located along the Rock River at 123 W. Milwaukee St., from Burkard Lewis Properties LLC for $130,000. The closing date is to be no later than Nov. 1.

In addition, the council unanimously authorized the sale of the property, which is registered as an historical building on both the state and national Registers of Historic Places.

The buyer, Rob Lewis — who, along with his wife, Michelle, own and operate Lewis Station Winery in downtown Lake Mills — plans to start operating a micro-winery on the premises within two years of closing and, per the offer, agrees to perform a minimum of $130,000 worth of improvements to the property.

The offer to purchase is contingent upon the city acquiring the property from current owner Joe Tate no later than one day before closing with the buyer. The city then would sell the property to Lewis the same day on a two-year land contract.

City Administrator Tim Freitag said the city has been discussing the fate of the property during a couple of meetings.

“It’s a fairly historic property in the City of Jefferson,” Freitag said. “The property is on the state and national Register of Historic Places. It is the old livery building for the Jefferson House Hotel and dates back well into the 1800s.”

The property, he said, has sat vacant for several years.

“It’s in a condition that requires a fairly significant investment to save the building,” Freitag added. “And, quite honestly, when we first started talking about it, we looked at the prospect of having to raze the structure and then, potentially, redeveloping the site for parking that would support activities down on the riverfront.”

But since that time, he said, the city received an extremely viable reuse of the building proposal with a party (Lewis) interested in acquiring it from the city, assuming it is closed on.

Appearing before the council on Tuesday, Lewis shared his plans for redevelopment of the property at 123 W. Milwaukee St.

“I’m the winemaker and owner of Lewis Station Winery in downtown Lake Mills,” Lewis said, noting that about 10 years ago, he and his wife decided to open a wine shop with the intent of eventually buying and starting a winery. “I gave the (Lake Mills City Council) a passionate story about how I can drive tourism into downtown Lake Mills because, at that time, there were a lot of vacancies in Lake Mills, as well.”

He said his idea was to start what’s called an urban winery that could do more than just produce wines, but also become a tourist destination featuring food and entertainment to be enjoyed year-round.

“In the state, there are more wineries that are out in the countryside, where you would typically find wineries with vineyards, and that sort of thing,” Lewis explained. “Because of that, a lot of wineries are closed in the winter.”

It was his passion then for an urban winery, he said, that pushed his untested project forward.

“Nine years later, I’m happy to be able to tell you that of all the wineries here in the state, we (Lewis Station Winery) are probably in the top 10 percent for wine production, as well as tourism,” Lewis pointed out. “And downtown Lake Mills is full.”

Looking at the Jefferson location for a new winery, he said, the potential is huge.

“When the opportunity came to look at the building that you have at the riverfront, I’m probably as excited, if not more excited (than starting the Lake Mills winery),” Lewis said. “The redevelopment that I hear from the city council and residents with the restructuring of the downtown riverfront — I knew that I had to be part of that.”

Considering the building’s past, the buyer said he wanted to incorporate that history and allow the building to “thrive.”

“And that’s where the name Stable Rock Winery came from,” Lewis explained. “Stable is when it was (a livery) built in the late-1800s; Rock, obviously, next to Rock River, and Winery is kind of self-explanatory for what I do.”

He said he intends to start working on the building’s exterior immediately after closing on the property.

“We would redo the brick and the foundation repair that it desperately needs,” Lewis explained. “We will remove the paint and expose the natural beauty of the Cream City brick without painting it.”

The roof will be replaced, he noted, along with new gutters installed.

“The lack of gutters on the building is causing damage every time it rains,” Lewis said. “So, the idea would be to kind of button-up the outside of the building this year so that this winter I would have confidence knowing the building is safe on the outside, which would allow me to have more fun on the inside.”

The interior, he said, is where the production facility would be added.

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