One of the local craft beer industry’s biggest cheerleaders, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, is pushing for federal funds to help transform a dilapidated building in Copiague into the state’s first ever craft beer incubator.

The New York Democrat Monday pledged to help the Town of Babylon obtain $1 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help pay for the estimated $12 million project.

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Schumer said the so-called Babylon Brewery Incubator meets the criteria for federal funding, and it would be a “game changer” for Long Island and New York State.

“This could be the Mecca of beer brewing in all of New York State,” proclaimed the senator at a press conference held outside the building, which was once home to a wallpaper manufacturing company and a defense contractor before that.

Transforming the one-acre site into a beer incubator is a no-brainer given the craft beer industry’s meteoric rise over the last several years, Schumer explained. Long Island now boasts more than a dozen craft breweries, and the robust industry has shown no sign of tapering off.

Town officials said the proposed facility would house a 4,000-square-foot tasting room where artisan beer lovers could sample brews concocted by microbrewers who would be tenants there. The beers would be made in the facility using on-site equipment essential to the beer-making process, like fomenters.

Schumer and others believe a facility like this would give home brewers the space and the machinery they need to create their product and allow them to “mix and mingle” with like-minded beer connoisseurs.

The Copiague site was built in 1951. It has been abandoned for three decades, officials said. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)
The Copiague site was built in 1951. It has been abandoned for three decades, officials said. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

“Hundreds of Long Islanders who brew in their garages or make-shift facilities would have a chance to hone and perfect their recipes in a state-of-the-art commercial space,” Schumer said.

The property at 1305 South Strong Avenue would need more than a face-lift. The building has been abandoned for about three decades, according to Babylon Town Industrial Development Agency’s chief executive officer, Matthew McDonough. As a result, the building is tagged with graffiti, its windows are broken, and the roof has partially collapsed, rattling dangerously on windy days. Apparently, local kids have turned the interior into a skate park littered with empty beer cans and broken glass. The local fire department has reportedly complained about bonfires being set inside the building, prompting firefighters to respond on several occasions.

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The Babylon IDA said that the site had more than $900,000 owed in back taxes, and that New York Department of Environmental Conservation had had to spend $750,000 in remediation costs, which included the disposal of 20 tons of contaminated waste from a cesspool.

According to the DEC, “significant contamination was removed,” thus no further remedial action plan is proposed for the site. The property had been listed in the State Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Sites, but “the site no longer poses a threat to human health or the environment,” the DEC concluded in a report published in February.

The property was originally developed in 1951 by Dayton T Brown Co., a defense contractor currently based in Bohemia.

Assuming the Babylon IDA receives the funding it needs, local officials believe the beer incubator could eventually create about 35 to 50 full-time positions. Once the Town acquires the property, it plans to send out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a site manager.

Schumer said New York’s craft beer industry currently supports 60,000 jobs and brings in $5.3 billion in economic activity. The incubator will bolster job growth by giving Long Island microbrewers the opportunity to perfect their product before they open their own operations, he added.

The senator cited as a success story the Patchogue-based Blue Point Brewery, which began as a home-brewing operation before becoming the largest craft brewery on the Island. Blue Point was sold to international beer conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014 for an estimated $24 million.