A couple that moved to Stoughton last year is interested in buying a city-owned building on Fourth Street known as the power plant, renovating it and opening a distillery.

Abby and Nick Abramovich, along with their 18-month-old son Byron, came here last September from Peoria, Illinois, and noticed the abandoned power plant building overlooking the Yahara River.

Both chemical engineers, the Abramoviches have been thinking about starting a small business and feel the city-owned power plant building has potential.

“We keep coming back to the brewing or distillery idea, because that’s what Nick likes doing a lot,” Abby Abramovich, who works in Madison as a project manager for DuPont, told the Hub. “We’ve seen the building a lot and thought it would work for us.”

The couple worked for the food-processing company Archer Daniels Midland in Peoria for three years before moving to Stoughton. They live a few blocks south of Main Street, not far from the power plant.

With its riverfront location, large open interior space and history, the building meets the couple’s needs for size and location, Abramovich said, adding it doesn’t appear that it would be too expensive to renovate.

She said with their professional backgrounds, “opening a distillery would not be a far stretch.”

“We worked at an industrial distillery making millions of gallons of vodka every day,” she said.

Significant obstacles

Abby Abramovich met with the Redevelopment Authority – which technically owns the building – last week to present her ideas and find out if the RDA would be willing to separate the power plant from the rest of a roughly 12-acre redevelopment area along the Yahara River.

She received some positive responses from RDA members, while others said they liked her idea but want to keep the entire redevelopment area intact.

The following day, Thursday, Feb. 15, Abramovich and her husband walked through the historic building, built in 1906 according to city records, and liked what they saw.

Despite the RDA’s mixed messages, the couple left feeling ready to begin getting estimates to renovate the building and set up a business.

Abby Abramovich said acquiring a liquor license for a distillery is complicated and time-consuming.

“(It’s) much harder than for a brewery, because you’re selling and distributing a much higher proof alcohol product,” she explained.

Along with a city liquor license, the couple would need Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources permits for improvements they’d like to make to the building and property.

“Even if you don’t touch the riverbank, which we would need to do, you still need to have DNR approvals for stormwater management and things like that,” Abramovich told the Hub.

The project would be a lot more expensive than a standard construction that would happen in town away from the river, she said.

If the couple decides to move forward with a proposal to purchase the building and implement a business plan, they would apply for grants to help finance the work, “and we may choose to apply to make it a historic national monument,” Abramovich said.

RDA responses

Some RDA members were receptive to the Abramoviches’ idea, while others think it’s important to keep the area intact for a future developer.

“I don’t favor parting with any of the properties in the redevelopment area,” said Peter Sveum. “It’s important for the RDA to align all these parcels.”

RDA chair Scott Truehl agreed: “We need for it all to be a unified project.”

But after hearing Abramovich’s pitch, RDA member Ron Christianson was “all for it.”

“I’d like to see something there that’s viable for the community,” he said.

Another RDA member, John Kramper, thinks it would be too early for the RDA to make a decision to sell the building, but added, “I think it would be neat thing to have there.”

Consultant Gary Becker told Abramovich she might have to wait for the RDA to find a developer for the redevelopment project.

“A developer would still need someone to own and operate it,” he said.

He noted that the building’s location is an ideal site to develop a commercial enterprise.

Abramovich appeared to be unfazed by the RDA’s less supportive comments, and said she could foresee starting to work on the building this year.

“I don’t want to spend six months writing a proposal if it’s a waste of time,” she told the RDA. “If I’m going to buy this building, I want it up and running in two years.”

Contact Bill Livick at bill.livick@wcinet.com