Developer plan to open whiskey still in spring ’09
Standing in the trussed livery barn Wednesday that promises to become Park City’s long-awaited distillery, Mayor Dana Williams said that he had not taken a shot of whiskey since high school.
A few minutes later, he and the crowd of about 30 city council members, construction workers and developers were sipping David Perkins’ locally distilled bourbon.
That’s because one of Old Town’s best-known landmarks, the National Garage near the Town Lift, and a house that sits beside it may at last begin their transformation next week to become one of Utah’s first legal whiskey distilleries since Prohibition.
Plans to convert the 100-year-old livery barn and house on Park Avenue have been in the works since Perkins won unanimous approval from City Hall in 2006 to turn the property into a boutique still.
The planned 9,800-square-foot restaurant, bar and whiskey distillery could be open as early as year from now, Perkins said, but some obstacles remain.
"We started in earnest [on the distillery] three years ago," said Perkins, who first applied to buy the property from the city in 2005. "We’ve reached a lot of milestones. From the get-go the city has been really supportive."
Today, the garage contains more wooden braces than a medieval church. "This is an old livery building and some people think it should have been taken down a long time ago," Williams said. "The idea of taking something that was a garage and turning it into a living structure means a lot needs to be done."
Therein lies the controversy.
The renovation project that both city officials and developers say might give the garage a second life may be the very thing that costs the structure its place in history or at least its spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city-approved method of rehabilitation for the garage involves removing the structure’s roofing and walls in 10 different sections for storage during construction of a modern superstructure, according to Ron Ivie, the head of the city’s building department.
"It’s by no means standard renovation practice," Ivie said. "But we think it’s the best way to preserve the structure. You have to take it apart because of the age and condition. You can save more of it."
High West is currently moving forward with construction plans as well as efforts to bolster the chances that the building remains on the register once construction is complete, according to the city manager’s May 1 report.
Developers and the city have been working with Utah’s Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service to gain approval for this method of rehabilitation, the report said.
"Our overwhelming concern is that the building stays on the National Historic Register," Williams said. "This is a structure we were so close to losing."
Ivie and Perkins’ architect, Wally Cooper, traveled to Washington, D.C., Thursday to plead their case for the rehabilitation plan to the Park Service.
High West won’t get a final answer from the Park Service until early June.
If plans go ahead as scheduled, workers will dig a basement, lay foundation and construct a new superstructure before restoring the original façade to the building.
Construction plans entail moving the house onto the garage site, rebuilding the foundation and moving the house back to its original location before the garage returns to its original site.
The disassembly process will go on for several days and intermittently reduce a small stretch of Park Avenue to one lane for an hour or so at a time, Ivie said.
Approval of the building permit is awaiting formal action by the city Monday, after Ivie and Cooper return.
Perkins’ team of builders and framers has been working to stabilize the building through the winter.
In addition to the symbolic importance of keeping one of Park City’s landmarks classified as a historic building, High West could receive tax credits from the federal government if the structure remains on the register after conversion.
Ivie said the tax credits could amount to a substantial amount of money, but noted that the city was primarily concerned with the status of the garage, which sits within Park City’s Historic District.
Perkins’ investment in the property has already been considerable. He agreed to pay the city more than $1.4 million for the garage and house.
Cooper emphasized at the groundbreaking that even if the building is removed from the list, paneling is the most effective way to preserve the structure. "Everything we’re doing we’re doing conscientiously with the historic fabric of the building in mind," he said.
The city has required High West to construct wooden supports on both structures to preserve and support the old walls during moving and High West plans to store garage panels on the City’s property on Holiday Ranch Loop about a mile and a half from the construction site.
"The key for us is to do it right and if we miss some major potential time, like Sundance, that’s OK," said Jane Perkins, David’s wife. "We moved here to be part of the community."
In addition to whiskey, High West distillery will make vodka, gin and scotch, Jane Perkins said.
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Park City on Tuesday hosted an open house designed to provide information about a wide range of municipal projects and programs, but the event took on greater meaning with the gathering becoming among the largest City Hall-organized events held in person in the more than a year.