Economic Development

CharBenay’s Wine Aims for Mid-June Opening

WARREN, Ohio – Against the backdrop of the Mahoning River on a sunny, rainless morning – something that has been rare lately in the Mahoning Valley – developer Mark Marvin outlined the work still to be done on the former Scope Senior Center before it can be turned over to the entrepreneur who plans to open a wine bar there.

Among the items yet to be completed are the outdoor patio on the rear of the property, which sets on the bank of the Mahoning River. The concrete, which will be stamped with a cobblestone pattern, was to have been poured a month ago. 

“It’s been so wet we haven’t had a chance to do anything,” said Marvin, whose Downtown Development Group owns the property and is renovating it.

Marvin joined Charlene Butcher, who will operate CharBenay’s Wine on the River at the site next month, in hosting the Western Reserve Port Authority’s board of directors Wednesday for its monthly meeting. 

Last year, the port authority, through an agreement with the city of Warren, acquired the former senior center property and sold it to Downtown Development Group. He estimated he will have spent about $200,000 on improvements to the property once he is finished.  

If the weather cooperates, Marvin anticipated being able to turn the property over to Butcher by June 1. CharBenay’s has a seven-year lease for the property, Butcher said. 

 “They’ve really worked hard trying to get it ready for me,” Charlene Butcher said. “I’m looking for a soft opening maybe on June 14.” 

CharBenay’s will initially be open Thursday through Sunday with a staff of 10, plus friends and family helping out, she said. She plans on starting out with appetizers and expanding to a full menu within a year.

The venue will serve wines produced by L’uva Bella Winery in Lowellville, including its RedHead brand. The winery will also produce several private-label brands for CharBenay’s, including Char’s Private Blend, Dar’s Rose and River Rock. 

Butcher is in discussions with Warren’s Modern Methods Brewing Co. to serve its beers, but a deal is not final, she said.

CharBenay’s will have a gift shop and barrel room as well as a bar-lounge area and an enclosed patio in addition to the outdoor patio. Eight of the tables in the outdoor patio will have built-in, propane-fed fire pits. 

In addition, winemaking classes led by Butcher and L’uva Bella winemakers, including Redhead Brands CEO Marisa Sergi, are planned. The participants in those classes will be able to keep their wines at CharBenay’s barrel room “with a slight cork fee charged” so they can order their specific wine when the patronize the venue, Marvin said.   

The building will also have banquet space to accommodate parties of about 150 that is being developed as the second phase of the project. 

CharBenay’s is one of three restaurants that will be opening over the next month or so in Downtown Development Group properties, Marvin said. Jacked, a steakhouse, is opening in the former WRRO building and West & Main is taking over the old Lime Tree space. 

“I know all of them are champing at the bit,” Marvin said. “It’s just a matter of buttoning everything up and getting done. It’s going to be exciting.”   

Other than the complications provided by the rainy spring, work on the properties has proceeded mostly on schedule, Marvin said. “This has actually been very easy building to work with.” 

With the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday looking good for outdoor work, the goal was to get the building’s exterior painted and dig the footing so the concrete can be poured for the patio.

CharBenay’s is the first project that the port authority executed under an agreement it entered into with the city of Warren nearly two years ago, said Anthony Trevena, director of the port authority’s Northeast Ohio Development and Finance Authority. 

Under the agreement, Warren transfers specific properties to the port authority, which can then sell them to a developer that’s been identified with a specific project. 

Earlier this year, the port authority transferred the Owen Morgan house in Warren to the Trumbull County Historical Society, which is renovating the Mahoning Avenue property for use as a cultural and education center. Next week, the St. Vincent de Paul Society will announce its plans for the property at 2311 Niles Road that the port authority transferred to it, Trevena said. 

The port authority is also in discussions with other local municipalities, including Youngstown, about entering into similar arrangements with the port authority. ”If they see a value to it, then they’ll do it,” Trevena said.  

During the meeting, the board also approved negotiating a term sheet with Campus Lofts LLC, which is developing an $11.7 million student housing complex to serve Youngstown State University. It also approved distribution of a temporary sales tax exemption certificate for TrailStar Realty LLC, with which it is entering into a capital lease agreement to assist the company with a $9.3 million expansion project near its current site in Smith Township. 

Joann Esenwein, director of planning for Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, updated the board members on an application being prepared for a $600,000 U.S. Economic Development Administration Grant to fund a recovery coordinator to help the community address the impact of the General Motors Lordstown Complex closing. She also requested that the port authority provide a letter of support for the application. 

If approved, the three-year grant would fund the hiring of an individual or consulting firm who would help coordinate the community’s response and determine who should be working on which tasks to assist the area’s recovery, she said. 

Eastgate will submit a draft to EDA’s Chicago office Monday. “They’ve agreed to review our grant before we finalize everything,” she said. Eastgate could know by June if the grant is approved. 

The application requires a $150,000 match, which she said hopefully can be accomplished with in-kind support such as providing office space and other Eastgate resources.  

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.