MOUNT VERNON — On downtown Mount Vernon’s riverfront, a new brewery is preparing to open in an historic theater building. A few blocks over, a couple is revitalizing a vacant retail space.
These are just a few of the property owners making investments in downtown as they anticipate growth.
“Mount Vernon is up-and-coming and only has a few breweries,” said Mark Shintaffer, co-owner of District Brewing, which is set to open in mid-February.
The owners are restoring the former Lyric Theater building, which was most recently an antiques shop. Shintaffer said the brewery will include two floors of seating, an outdoor patio and wood-fired pizzas named after movies.
Chris Phillips, planning and development services director for the city of Mount Vernon, said 13 tenant improvement permits were issued for downtown last year. Usually the city sees just a few applications.
“I just see this as a natural evolution of downtown,” he said. “The floodwall protection definitely provides a layer of security for businesses opening downtown and (existing) businesses,” he said.
After the city completed its 10-year floodwall protection project, the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted last summer the city’s request to remove downtown from the 100-year floodplain.
Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau said at an event last fall to celebrate the completion of the floodwall that the project removes 223 buildings from the floodplain and brings about a 40% reduction in flood insurance premiums.
Ryan Ike, FEMA director of external affairs, said building standards for new construction will now be less rigorous because structures don’t have to be built above the floodplain elevation. Flood insurance will be cheaper and optional, he said.
Ellen Gamson, director of the Mount Vernon Downtown Association, said new retail businesses are filling vacant storefronts. Those that remain empty are being renovated or in need of renovation, she said.
The floodwall protection is “having a ripple effect we can see and feel,” Gamson said.
Steve Cohan and Morgan Randall are renovating a retail space on First Street to accommodate a business on the ground floor and a living space above. They hope to complete renovation this spring.
They say they wanted to live in a walkable community and have a source of income for their retirement.
Randall said the new flood protection project made the investment possible. The next step is getting more foot traffic downtown.
“(The city) has got to get the word out there,” she said.
Shintaffer said that when he was considering opening a brewery, he was encouraged by the crowds he saw at the Riverwalk Summer Concert Series on the downtown riverfront.
More parking and housing is needed, he said.
New parking is planned as part of a commercial development underway along Interstate 5 south of East Kincaid Street.
“People need to come down here,” he said.