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Rehab of Building Along Middletown, Conn., Riverfront Will Create New Eatery

Wed December 07, 2022 - Northeast Edition
Middletown Press

Interior structural work began Dec. 6 on a project to turn a former Middletown, Conn.-owned canoe club into a combination seafood restaurant, brewery and snack shack to be run by the owners of a popular brewpub in the city.

The 5,163-sq.-ft. building at Harbor Park is perched on the banks of the Connecticut River, and offers sometimes stunning views of the sunset, as well as the Arrigoni Bridge.

The building had been the site of the Mattabesett Canoe Club, but the redevelopment will be operated by Eli Cannon's Tap Room on Main Street.

The Middletown Press reported Dec. 5 that the property is an anchor and crucial first step toward the city's more than 10-year redevelopment plan. Middletown took ownership of the canoe club in 1958, according to assessor's records, and formerly offered 25-year leases.

Included within the redevelopment will be Tate's, a family-style eatery at 80 Harbor Dr. The restaurant is named after the three-year-old daughter of Eli Cannon's co-owners, husband and wife, Rocco and Aubrey LaMonica.

Bobbye Knoll Peterson, Middletown's acting director of economic and community development said that once Tate's is open, it will serve multiple purposes along the waterfront, including a sit-down experience, offer coffee to go, or "if you want to grab a hot dog and walk up and down the boardwalk, you'll be able to do that there too," she added.

Waterfront Project Faced Delays, Added Costs

The rehab work was expected to be done about a year ago, but the delay was in part due to problems building inspectors discovered with the support beams, Common Council Majority Leader Gene Nocera told the Press.

"We're ready to put hammer to nail starting this week," Aubrey LaMonica explained Dec. 5. "It's going to be worth the wait."

Both the city and the LaMonicas are using the same contractor, Ted Coughlin, owner of Coughlin Service Corp. on Johnson Street in Middletown, which will provide "continuity" to the project, the LaMonicas said.

"That extra time that was taken to make sure it was done right was important for what the final project was going to look like," Aubrey LaMonica commented, "especially because it's such an old and beautiful building."

Encountering unforeseen issues is to be expected with such an aging structure, she explained, before adding, "While it's taken a lot longer than we had hoped and anticipated, it really is going to benefit the final outcome."

Peterson told the Press that the LaMonicas have been very patient considering the completion date has been pushed.

"This is not a process that they envisioned either," she explained. "It has been a delay by discovery."

The original budget of the project, which began over a year ago, was $1 million. This past August, though, costs rose to $1.5 million. Since then, Mayor Ben Florsheim distributed an added $1 million to the effort, although that could rise, according to Peterson.

She also noted that funds are coming from the city's $55 million infrastructure bond, approved by local voters in 2020.

In addition, the LaMonicas have submitted an application for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) monies, which will pay for city initiatives.

"We've never hidden the fact that the project is going to be more expensive than initially thought," Peterson added. "This has been sort of a perfect storm for this to be a more [costly] project."

Repairs to the old Mattabesett Canoe Club had been neglected for years, she admitted.

"Once the structural issues were uncovered as part of prepping the building for work that needed to be done, we walked down a different path," Peterson continued. She said that maintenance had been deferred for too long.

An ‘Irreplaceable' Middletown Landmark

The old canoe club building, to her mind, is "irreplaceable" because it is in a flood plain. In fact, for many years, the structure routinely filled with water during the spring freshet and heavy rains.

"People have said, ‘Why don't you tear it down?'" Peterson said. "If we were to tear that building down, [though], we would never be able to rebuild it because of its location."

Already, the roof at 80 Harbor Dr. has been replaced, and it has newly applied white stucco and fresh paint on the building's exterior.

She told the Middletown news source that needed work on the restaurant's interior, including the installation of support beams and drywall, was not identified during the engineering process. The LaMonicas, Peterson noted, are responsible for cosmetic improvements to the structure.

Besides Tate's, the other amenities in the rehabilitated riverfront building are:

  • A glass-enclosed, visible working brew system, in conjunction with Eli Cannon's Brewing Collective, which focuses on local craft beer. It will be located on the first floor.
  • A takeout window for The Dragon Shack, a nod to the mascot name from nearby Middletown High School, as well as the students who will be working there. Its offerings are to include lower-priced food for boardwalk and "boat-up" patrons. Twenty percent of the outdoor stand's proceeds are slated to be donated each year to the high school's senior class.
  • The Good Neighbors Coffee & Creamery, a partnership with NoRA Cupcake Co. and Perkatory Coffee Roasters.

Tate's restaurant is set to launch next spring, the Press learned, as the local anticipation about its opening has grown over the past year. When that happens, Peterson added, Tate's is going to be an "excellent place" to enjoy the Connecticut River.

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