Phillipsburg Town Council heard plans Tuesday night for a distillery in Union Square.
Nick Piperata of the Piperata Group opened his presentation with his local history as a 1989 graduate of Phillipsburg High School, in the town where his parents opened their own small business and his mother donated her home to house the local fire department. Piperata is now planning to open his own business: a distillery.
A month ago, a brewery operating in Phillipsburg relocated to Whitehouse Station, leaving a distillery-ready building vacant in Union Square.
Piperata is in discussions with the building owner to lease the property in the event he is able to proceed with his business plan. He explained the process of opening a distillery in the State of New Jersey, where the business owner has to seek approval from both the state and the municipality in which it operates.
Piperata compared his business model to that of the Crayola Factory in Easton, where he would begin operations as a non-foot traffic business that would eventually expand to attract tourists.
He assured the council he had the ability to ferment his wine in-house, bottle his product and begin as his own distributor as the property he is looking at sits directly across from a wine and spirits store.
Production would take about three months, and while distillery start-ups typically cost approximately $1 million, Piperata believes that he could open his at ten percent of that cost with his personal network of engineers and other technicians.
As a veteran, he will be seeking grants and aid from the Small Business Administration.
"I'm asking the town's permission to get this off the ground," Piperata said. "I'd like to get this started as soon as possible."
The council was very receptive to his proposal and engaged in some discussion on their best course of action. A town engineer was in attendance at the meeting and was able to answer some of the council's questions on the next appropriate steps for the distillery project. The property would have to be granted a conditional use permit to function as a distillery and the town council would later have to approve a liquor license.
Town Attorney Richard Wenner stated that the current zoning of the property would have to be examined after Piperata came to a formal lease agreement with the building owner. Members of council pointed out that the Union Square area is in need of redevelopment and Councilman Todd Tersigni called it a "positive endeavor" he will support "100 percent."
The council passed a no-action motion to move the project forward and to discuss their formal role in approving and licensing the distillery at a later meeting.