Rotten Grapes

Posted by Black Phillip

I will say, that yes, there are two sides to every story.
And yes, things change over time.
I make judgements based on what I know, or at least believe to be facts.
I believe that the below linked articles are based on facts.

So I'll just post these out here before I get to my comments.

The city is asking Niagara County for $100,000 to help launch a Wine Emporium on Canal Street.

On behalf of Beautiful Visions LLC, the city earlier this month filed an application for a Niagara River Greenway grant to complete the purchase and furnishing of 79 Canal St.

Beautiful Visions, a separate company by J. Fitzgerald Group partners Jack Martin and Carmel Cerullo-Beiter, would rent the building to Margo Bittner’s Appleton Creek Winery LLC as a satellite winery.

According to Martin, the Wine Emporium would sell all Niagara County-produced wines and a host of other locally grown and created goods.
Mayor Michael Tucker vouched for the project in the grant application, writing in a support letter that the emporium would be the “stimulus to entice other businesses” to the Canal Street block. GLDC has showed 79 Canal to several prospective buyers but is holding them off in the hope Beautiful Visions goes for the purchase; it has “first dibs” at the moment, he said, because its proposal satisfies two GLDC goals — recruiting retail and increasing downtown’s tourist appeal.
A proposed Lockport retail outlet that would sell Niagara County-produced goods, pegged by supporters as a potential center for tourists interested in the county’s Wine Trail, failed to receive the endorsement of the Niagara River Greenway Commission this week.

By a 6-4 vote, the commission found the Canalside Wine Emporium proposal did not meet the goals of a 2007 master plan for a Buffalo-to- Youngstown recreational trail along the Niagara River.

The Greenway Commission holds no power to award funding, but its denial raises roadblocks for the project receiving any share of the $9 million in annual funding dedicated to Greenway projects.
Initially, the proposal from Beautiful Vision LLC called for the property at 79 Canal St. to be privately owned. The project, as presented Tuesday, had been changed — the City of Lockport would now maintain ownership of the building.
The project will still move forward, and other funding sources will be sought, he said. Sponsors had been seeking $100,000 in Greenway funds for acquisition costs, according to their initial application.

Applicants who fail to receive commission endorsement are free to resubmit their plans, said Rob Belue, the commission’s executive director.

Some of the commissioners deemed the project inconsistent because they believed the project’s location was outside the boundaries of the Greenway, as well as the location having limited connections to the Niagara River, though some who voted in favor considered the project to have sufficient geographic ties with the Greenway.
Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he was angered by the commission’s vote, but said the project will move forward. The city’s development agency, Greater Lockport Development Corp., might spend $100,000 of its own money to fix up the building and then sell it to Beautiful Visions, he said.

“There were some great projects, but ours was the best,” Tucker said of the projects reviewed by the Greenway Commission on Tuesday.
Back to the US&J, May 30
Greater Lockport Development Corp. is taking action to ensure the Wine Emporium opens on Canal Street this summer.

GLDC’s board of directors this week approved spending the money to outfit 79 Canal St. as a satellite winery/marketplace for all locally produced goods. The agency will pay the tab for having the building interior finished, then lease or sell it to the company that pitched the Wine Emporium.

“Finally, we’ll have something on the block, and it’s the right thing,” Mayor Michael Tucker, GLDC president, said Friday.

Beautiful Visions, a separate company by J. Fitzgerald Group partners Jack Martin and Carmel Cerullo-Beiter, pitched the Emporium as a showcase for products created in Niagara County.
Martin will negotiate with GLDC principals next week regarding whether his company will lease or purchase the improved building from GLDC
It’s using money from its revolving loan fund, which is considered private, not public, cash, [Attorney John Ottaviano] said. The agency may use the contractors that Martin already obtained estimates from.
But wait, there's more.

Back again to the Buffalo News, July 24
A local winery owner plans to open a store selling Niagara County farm products exclusively, while the man who first broached the idea charges he was double-crossed.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker told the Greater Lockport Development Corp. board Thursday that the Canalside Wine Emporium is to open next year at 79 Canal St., a building owned by the city corporation.

Margo S. Bittner, owner of the Winery at Marjim Manor in Appleton, will be in charge, and her employee, Sara Capen of Newfane, will manage the store.

Jack Martin, owner of J. Fitzgerald Group, a Lockport ad agency, is out of the picture, Tucker said.

An angry Martin said, “I’ve spent eight months trying to do something for the city, and I’m done. We’re going to focus on our own business.”

He blasted Bittner for allegedly stealing his idea and going to the city with a proposal after Martin’s talks with the city broke down.

Martin said, “Margo’s name is pretty muddy around the area, and this is how she deals. She runs over people.”
Bittner said, “I guess everyone’s got their own opinion. I am quite frankly looking forward to working with the other wineries and the other businesses I have good relations with.”

“I’ll put our reputation up against anyone else involved in this debacle,” Martin said.

He and his ad agency partner, Carmel Cerullo-Beiter, came up with the idea of a retail store selling the wines produced in Niagara County and other local farm products. At first, their idea was to place it at 16 W. Main St., a storefront owned by J. Fitzgerald Group, two doors from the ad agency.

Bittner’s firm was asked to be the lead winery and to enlist the support of other members of the Niagara Wine Trail. Capen already manages Bittner’s satellite outlet, the Kempville Wine Shop in Olcott, and was to manage the Lockport store, too.

Martin then became interested in 79 Canal St., above the Erie Canal locks, but things started to come unglued May 19.
The city’s development corporation then tried to work with Martin’s group on the project. But that went awry, too.

Martin said he had a verbal agreement with the city to buy the property for $95,000, but after a June 8 closed-door development agency meeting, the deal was substantially altered and became more expensive.

The city was to sell the property to Martin for $108,000, after a three-year lease with a balloon payment at the end. Martin also thought the property would be tax-exempt for five years, but it wasn’t.

“It’s kind of like the Wizard of Oz. We could never find out who was behind the curtain,” Martin said Thursday.

Tucker said, “I think the [development agency] board bent over backwards for Jack. The project kept changing. They didn’t have a business plan. They didn’t have any projections. They know Jack, or know of Jack, and his success in business and his desire to help our community. If John Q. Public had come in with the same proposal Jack had, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere, but they had confidence in Jack.”

The negotiations foundered, and Martin decided to open the store at 16 W. Main after all. Bittner didn’t like that news; she said, “I think Canal Street is ideal.”

On June 22, she e-mailed Martin, “I was very surprised to read in the newspaper that the Emporium will be opening on Main Street. Which winery are you working with? By the way, before you use the name, you need to know that I have trademarked ‘Canalside Wine Emporium.’ ”

By July 7, Martin had learned that Bittner and Capen approached the city for a new Canal Street deal. “Unscrupulous,” Martin termed it.

Tucker said Thursday that the city has applied for another Greenway grant, this one $200,000. The city will keep the money to hire a contractor to make both floors of 79 Canal ready for occupancy, while Bittner works on obtaining a liquor license, which she said will take three or four months.
Bittner said the Greenway commission is supposed to vote on the grant Sept. 22.
Sorry for the large amount of copy paste, but I felt a full timeline was needed, or I would not be doing the situation justice.

REGARDLESS of if Jeff Martin had a "business plan" or not, do I feel that it was a respectable thing for the Bittners to shut him out, and go ahead with the project behind his back? Do I feel that the e-mail to Martin was respectfull in any way? Nope. No way. No how.

Have I lost respect for Mayor Mike Tucker for not keeping Martin informed that the Bitners were continuing. Yes.

As to your own conclusions, I'll let you decide for yourself.


And just to throw it out there:
I will be more than happy to change my opinion if new information comes out that contridicts my current thoughts on this mess.
The idea for a Niagara Wine Shoppe has a very tenuous link to the Niagara River, at best.
I also have no respect for people who feel the need to pretend that there are ghosts in order to keep their product name out there :(Results 1 - 10 of about 357 for ghost "Marjim Manor".). Lies are not a marketing angle.


Anonymous said...

I found this very interesting and was going to post about it. I think some information is mising from both sides.

I'm happy to see that there will be something on Canal St next year but am very dishearted by how it appears to be happening. Especially with what Matrin and his group have done with thier business/location and their very large invovement with Chet's Fundraiser. One would figure he would have been given first option on the lcoation/idea. I was excited at the possibility of having a hyper-local business owner taking it on. I wish we knew more.

As a side note, the space he is redoing next to Chet's is looking great and its a shame that it will not be a store front. The S side of W. Main is pry the best looking along the street.

Anonymous said...

I did notice the comming soon sign for "Niagara's First Impressions" while attending the pancake breakfast at Chet's fundraiser on Sat. It was nice that MTC left the front of the building for street-side commercial use.

It's a shame that the wide bridge cuts off this block from the rest of Main St.

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