If local developer Jerry Irons has his way, the historic Bastille building will do for downtown Hanford what Brewbakers Brewing Company did to revitalize downtown Visalia.
Irons presented a proposal at Tuesday’s City Council meeting to bring a microbrewery into the Bastille and a separate restaurant/bar to the top floor of the courthouse.
He didn’t name any microbreweries but said he’s talked to three that are interested.
Irons would either long-term lease the buildings or buy them. The city owns both properties.
The last tenant in the Bastille was a popular bar that was evicted by city leaders in 2009 after nearly constant disturbances that police had to be called out to on weekends.
The Sky Box Sports Bar and Grill, in the top floor of the old courthouse next to the Bastille, shut down in 2010.
Since then, it’s been nothing but ghosts in the Bastille and mostly empty space on the courthouse’s top floor.
The bottom-two floors of the courthouse are mostly leased out.
Irons told the City Council that his plan could “reverse [downtown’s] downward spiral and revitalize the heart of the city.”
The plan calls for the city to spend a lot of money to bring the Bastille up to standards Irons said are necessary to attract a microbrewery.
Irons wants the city to front the money for interior and exterior improvements that could range anywhere from $1.5 million to $2.25 million.
That includes a long list of improvements to the entire Courthouse Square area estimated to cost the city between $950,000 and $1.5 million.
The remainder would be $550,000-to-$750,000 loaned to Irons to fund interior work on the Bastille such as rebuilding the restrooms for disabled access, expanding the kitchen, putting in an elevator and adding interior dividing walls.
The loan portion would be paid back over a 30-year term through sales and rent revenue from tenants, according to Irons.
Irons is promising to chip in $250,000 to $500,000 of his own money.
He said in a phone interview that it’s the city’s responsibility to do the renovations necessary to Courthouse Square to attract major restaurant tenants.
“The building is substandard right now,” he said. “It’s unrentable. In my thinking, the problem is with the city needing to come on board to solve the problem of what’s happening in downtown right now.”
The city is currently in the middle of a renovation plan for the Bastille that could ultimately cost around $600,000 if the council approves every aspect of it, according to Public Works Director Lou Camara.
Camara said the plan maintains the external structure but doesn’t renovate the interior.
“That’s not being addressed by the city at this point,” he said.
City Council members praised the idea of bringing Courthouse Square and the Bastille back to life as a destination, but they raised doubts about the amount of money the city would be on
the hook for.
The funding picture is complicated by the fact that the city’s redevelopment agency was terminated in January 2012 as part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to balance the state budget.
The agency allowed the city to collect a greater share of property taxes and spend it on local redevelopment projects.
“I’m not willing to make a declaration tonight,” Councilman Russ Curry told Irons at Tuesday’s meeting. “You’ve given us a lot to chew on.”
Curry couldn’t be immediately reached by phone for further comment.
“It’s a whole bunch of information all at once,” said Councilman David Ayers at Tuesday’s meeting. “I consider this a starting point.”
Ayer’s couldn’t be immediately reached by phone for further comment.
Mayor Justin Mendes was supportive of the idea at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Looking at this, I do like it,” Mendes said. “I firmly believe that downtown needs a shot in the arm.”
Mendes suggested selling the old city-owned post office building currently occupied by Rabobank for about $800,000.
He said in a phone interview that the money could be combined with approximately $289,000 of general fund money to provide more than $1 million toward Iron’s project.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s a big number that we would have to invest in the Bastille,” Mendes said. “We need to see something positive in downtown. We need to show that we are committed to downtown in some way, shape or form. Right now, [Iron’s idea] is kind of the only proposal on the table.”
Fox Theatre co-owner Dan Humason said the project is “going to cost a lot of money.”
Humason said he remembers the late 1980s, when Courthouse Square was a “hubbub of activity.”
“We had 15,000-20,000 fewer people in Hanford [at that time],” he said. “That’s something to think about.”
Humason said he’s unsure whether revitalizing Courthouse Square will spur a revitalization of the whole downtown area.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just know that we need it. The town is dead.”
Humason said a microbrewery would work out better than the bar/nightclubs that used to be in Courthouse Square and were the subject of so many complaints from the police regarding patron drunkenness and fighting.
“The brewpub concept has saved a lot of downtowns,” Humason said.