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Distillery sets sights on downtown Grand Haven

Alexander Sinn • Mar 15, 2019 at 3:06 PM

Long Road Distillers may be coming to Grand Haven after all.

After the Grand Haven City Council denied the Grand Rapids-based distillery use of its historic train depot building on the waterfront, property owners in the community reached out to help bring the business to town.

Copper Post, a bar and restaurant at 102 Washington Ave. in the downtown, has offered Long Road a portion of the venue for a tasting room, similar to the proposal for the depot.

A public hearing will take place at Monday’s City Council meeting to grant Long Road a liquor license.

Long Road co-owners Kyle Van Strein and Jon O’Connor had for months been courting the City Council to grant them a 20-month lease at the depot. On March 4, the council voted 3-2 in favor of the distillery, but the measure required a 4-1 vote because it involved a property agreement.

While Mayor Geri McCaleb and Councilman Dennis Scott were concerned about access to alcohol on the city’s waterfront, Councilman Josh Brugger was a strong proponent of bringing in the new business.

“Long Road is potentially a destination spot for people,” Brugger said, calling the likely outcome a “win-win” for the city and the business. He said he anticipates a unanimous vote Monday to approve the distillery’s liquor license.

Van Strein said he was disappointed by the city’s process for selecting a depot tenant, but the business has received an outpouring of interest and support. No listed local properties fit the bill, he said, but property owners extended offers personally.

“The silver lining is a lot of people agreed with us that the process was poorly handled,” Van Strein said. “We’re still committed to the Grand Haven community as a whole.”

Other West Michigan communities have also shown interest in bringing in Long Road, he said. While the distillery may expand elsewhere, Van Strein added, he is enthusiastic about coming to Grand Haven’s downtown.

The Copper Post has two venue spaces, each with a bar, and Long Road would occupy the left-hand side from the entrance at the corner of Washington Avenue and First Street.

Van Strein said he and O’Connor were drawn to the historic building and its interior character, and are open to making improvements. The venue is situated at the transition point of the downtown between restaurants and retail, which Van Strein said is a unique opportunity.

“Us having both dining and drinking components, as well as a heavy focus on retail, we think will be a great transition into the more retail-centric portion of Washington,” Van Strein said.

The Rev. Dr. Jared Cramer, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, urged the council to bring the distillery to the city. Cramer said the craft distillery movement is growing in the country and is just coming to prominence in Michigan.

Cramer said he hopes everything goes “like clockwork” with the approval of the liquor license.

City Council remains focused on bringing a tenant to the depot building to help the city break even on the operating costs, Brugger said. The building, at 1 N. Harbor Ave., features about a third of the space designed for a fixed vendor. The building has undergone renovations in recent years, and City Council will review plans Monday for continued upgrades.

Brugger said he is hopeful the council can agree to bring a vendor to the space soon.

“I have been a proponent of leveraging the community assets for the benefit of the community,” he said. “The depot is a community asset, and right now taxpayers are covering the bill for it. I’m optimistic we’ll find somebody to fill that space.”

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