Ravens Head Brewing considering alternatives to St. Joseph's

st josephs albany exterior

Ravens Head Brewing has yet to hear whether the Albany BZA will approve a required variance for its proposed brewery/restaurant at St. Joseph's, but Ravens Head co-owner Brennon Cleary says they're preparing to move on.

Cleary says in his mind, and in the minds of his investors, the project at St. Joe's is "already dead," but they're going to ride out the process.

"I'm not willing to say I'm done," says Cleary, "but I'm not very optimistic."

And that outlook has Cleary and his partners looking at other options.

Faced with strong concerns about parking and noise from some residents of the Ten Broeck neighborhood, Ravens Head adjusted its plan for St. Joe's in an effort to win a variance. Foremost about the adjustments: the proposed addition of off-site parking. But that's shifted the math on the project.

"We'd have to spend another three quarters of a million dollars to buy a parking lot." Cleary says --that's in addition to the already $3 million expected price tag of the project. And while he says the parking alone might not be a deal breaker, when it's combined with other concessions such as closing at 11 pm, and the $25,000 purchase on an anaerobic waste disposal system to keep the trash indoors, the St. Joe's site starts making less financial sense.

Since the Ravens Head project first appeared in the news, Cleary says he's received inquiries and offers in a number of other cities. On this list of places they're looking at:
+ The Cohoes Armory
+ A warehouse in Troy that could serve as a brewing plant
+ A resort near Diamond Point on Lake George
+ A church in Hudson
+ A property in Windham

Cleary says he's been a bit discouraged by the project's detractors, but he believes there is still a lot of support for it, and if he could make it financially feasible, St. Joe's would still be his first choice.

"That building is just unbelievable. I fell it love with it, but I also fell in love with [Historic Albany Foundation] as an organization, and with the story of the designer of the building -- a classic American story. I couldn't [think] of anymore elegant of restaurant space."

Cleary says they've been asked about putting the brewery in the former Jillian's building on Pearl Street -- which he says wouldn't work logistically -- and even the Central Warehouse (not a good fit). He says they're open to another site in the city of Albany, but haven't found one, yet.

In the meantime, Cleary says Ravens Head has purchased property in Kinderhook, where they planned to store product to help alleviate truck traffic in the Ten Broeck neighborhood.

Ravens Head has lost sites for its proposed brewery before. The project was originally planned as a small B&B and nano-brewery in the Catskills with room for about 65 people, but the intended site was purchased by someone else. They lost another site in Fleischmanns, New York when investors got cold feet. But Cleary -- who left a job with Verizon in New Jersey to start Ravens Head -- says each time they lost a location, the concept has grown in scope.

"Each location after has been bigger and better and infinitely closer. We are very close with St. Joe's, but it could go away. But if it does go away I'm sure you're going to see something much more impressive out of Ravens Head."

The Ravens Head application is still pending with the city's Board of Zoning Appeals. The BZA's next meeting is scheduled for January 23 -- where it could issue a decision (or not).

Earlier and elsewhere:
+ TU: Church pub called a foul brew
+ TU: Council opposes church pub plan
+ Analysis from local brewer George de Piro
+ Is St. Joseph's Church a brewery in its next life?


It is disappointing to see that Ravens Head will most likely not be operating out of Albany. All summer long I was excited with the rumor that a brew pub was moving into that beautiful church. Sadly, the Ten Broek Triangle residents would rather the impending urban blight in their community than a bit more noise and a bit less parking. Not to mention the inevitable collapse/demo of a historic Albany landmark, which is also part of the city's skyline. Out of all of those locations, Cleary will most likely fare best in Hudson. I wish him the best of luck.

What a bummer for Albany- I'm sure a place like Hudson or Troy would jump at an opportunity for growth and development.

Not surprised to see Hudson on that list. But can I just say that they would be welcome at the Cohoes Armory? That place is dying for re-use! I live a few blocks away, and I would hope Cohoes would not make the same mistake as the Ten Broeck neighborhood!

What about the New Scotland Ave Armory in Albany as a potential location? I so want Ravens Head in Albany.

What a pity! Plain and simple, this is a case of NIMBY in downtown Albany. Just how much more stupid can a few the residents in this city be? Those few who live in Ten Broek. Really you live in a stagnant neighborhood on the corner of gun and drug infested ghetto, but you are afraid of a little traffic that will come along...traffic that would make your sliver of a neighborhood be a little less blighted, and become not only a destination and contributor to the areas tax base, but help other business owners in the area.

Albany residents wake up...you can't have it both ways...this is a city not the suburbs, and what makes a city is the culture, ambiance, and creativity of business owners and the city's residents. Work together, and make this town where people just don't flee because they got out of school, or hung up on state job.

These guys wanted to open up a brewery...not Club Shake yer booty.

I vote for the Cohoes Armory! It would be a great addition to the city in that area.

It's easy to blame the neighbors. The blame rests with Ravens Head. They're amateur brewers with no restaurant experience, a flimsy business plan, and uncertain funding. That's why the zoning board will say NO to the plan.

About $1 million has been spent to save and stabilize St. Joe's. The TB neighborhood was active in that effort, and the church is in no danger of falling down. For anyone who doesn't like its appearance, you can thank the indifferent stewardship of Historic Albany Foundation. They're the ones who allowed "artists" to plaster their juvenile artwork on the outside of the building and litter the grounds with the remnants of art shows past.

Completely disappointed in Albany and the residents of Ten Broek. How short-sighted can you get?

If I was Cleary, I'd look into the Hudson location... probably the best choice, location-wise, and I'm sure the neighbors will be much more open to investment in their community than Albany.

come to Troy. There is plenty of room for another brewery and there is lots of warehouse type real estate on the north end of the city. come to Troy.

Elisabeth: The New Scotland Armory is owned by Sage College next door. Even if the college wanted a brew pub on the premises (doubtful) it would not be a good idea.

The Armory in Cohoes would be awesome, and most welcome by the City residents and admin!

Now is an excellent time to invest in Cohoes. I love Hudson, but there's a lot of competition there for restaurants and a good deal of Hudson patrons come from outside of Hudson. Cohoes offers 10,000 more residents and the median family income is $42,054, +$21,594 over Hudson.

Not to mention the good folks at The Foundry, The Cohoes Music Hall and the Harmony Mills Lofts that would surely welcome a classic brewery and restaurant to their city.

I own a property in Albany next to commercial zoned property. That zoning changes constantly for extended hours and to have live events at night.

As much as I hate certain parts of it - I can always go to the zoning board and complain. I've stopped doing that - I realize that having a space occupied late into the night is priceless for me. Before kids used to run all over the space, not to mention there were never lights on making me feel less safe. Now there's constant activity and it has improved the neighborhood.

Ravens Head should just give up. They're obviously not wanted in that area, which is a true shame. Find somewhere that it won't be an uphill battle for you. Come to DelSo!

The residents of this neighborhood are condemning it and the surrounding area in the name of free parking, absolutely terrible.


@Eric Thanks for the info. I didn't know Sage owned the Armory.

Hmmmm, I wonder if St. Mary's on Washington Park in Troy would be a fit for them? Or the OTHER St. Patrick's, in Troy, in North Central.

Add me to the Cohoes bandwagon. Cohoes could really use a business like this; the city doesn't have too many restaurants that aren't takeout joints or fast food chains. Hopefully the new mayor catches wind of this and acts to encourage Ravens Head to choose the Cohoes Armory.

I'm sure that kind of rhetoric will persuade them of the correctness of your vision for their neighborhood.

Yeah, you nailed it on the head. I was planning on using," Oh but it will ruin the character of our neighborhood and make it…god forbid …a place where people might come one day." The horror for those 10 or 12 building owners!

I think Hudson would be a great location. Albany already has a brewery and they don't need the jobs or another private building on the tax role they have plenty right. It just goes to show Albany is close to small business their lost someone else's gain.

Tell you what King Supreme. Let's put the brew pub right next door to where you live and tell you that it will improve your neighborhood which, by the way, we think is a hell-hole. How might you hear that?

Just out of curiosity, I'd wonder what the fate of a proposal would be from an experienced brewery/bar/restaurant owner--Mahars, for example, or maybe the people who run The Point. If that proposal would be shot down from the Ten B NIMBY set, then I'm inclined to say they need to rethink what they want in their neighborhood. Albany in general has a problem with people walking around their neighborhoods, which is CRAZY. The more foot traffic their is, the less likely there will be crime, the more likely other businesses will open.

The neighbors will eventually be able to park where the church now stands unless a functional use for the building is found (how would you like to get the monthly utility bill for that place).

The above Hudson versus Cohoes statistical comparison is a little misleading. Hudson is in Columbia County which is chuck full of NYC weekenders. The high end restaurants that line Warren St are packed and most of the street is filled with interesting small shops (think pricy) plus throw in several cultural venues too. I was in Hudson twice in the last month and there are hardly any vacancies on Warren St, so all of those little unique, but pricy, businesses are succeeding with business derived from someplace. A brewery combined with an excellent pub type restaurant would probably do very well there.

I'm not picking a preferred location in a Hudson versus Cohoes (as Glen pointed out, it has it's positives too) choice, or anyplace else, I just wanted to point out there are reasons why a Ravens Head operation could succeed in Hudson.

It is incomprehensible that the residents of “The Triangle” can be this naïve. Let’s start with some basics. Your neighborhood is at the foot of Arbor Hill. Nobody wants anything to do with your neighborhood; Not businesses, not potential home buyers, nobody. For a business, even an ill-conceived one, to express interest in purchasing an abandoned church there and propose private investment of millions of dollars into it should be looked at with wonder like manna from heaven. Speaking of heaven, this is not an idea to turn a church into a pub. This is an idea to turn a rat infested, dying, abandoned building where homeless people go to defecate into a property tax-paying business.
Now regarding the comments that this is not zoned one way or another…..Is it zoned as a depository for Newport butts or for a convenient place to hide a burner after somebody gets capped? No? Well, that is what it is today. This is a non-issue.
Traffic? “Triangle” residents should be happy if beer trucks replace cop cars and ambulances responding to the latest murder.
All this “they aren’t listening to the residents” complaining is extremely childish and makes you look like you have this sense of entitlement that you just don’t deserve. A business doesn’t have to cater to your every whim. You aren’t a baron and they aren’t your serf. You’re a group of folks who think your polished turd of a neighborhood matters. Yes, you have old buildings. No, tour busses aren’t coming to see them.
Albany has colleges and public sector jobs in their buildings, none of which pay property taxes. Hence the reason why you pay $10K/year in property taxes for your $200K brownstone.
It’s not like they are asking to frack for natural gas. They want to turn one of Albany’s 300 abandoned buildings into a tax-paying business. You folks seem to be living in fantasy land. You should be begging anyone to come, not making it difficult for them.

"Also, "NIMBY" really is being misused here, as it implies that something must absolutely be done and just needs to be located

I'm the first to admit that an old church like St. Joseph's would be a really neat place to have a brew pub. I also want to see that building saved in a way that the people who live adjacent to it can live with. But if the people in that neighborhood don't want the brew pub in its proposed incarnation, then so be it."

You just met your own definition of NIMBY after poo-pooing the phrase. A better definition of hypocrite I have yet to meet.

Yes, it is a well-known fact that what a 'blighted' neighborhood needs is more beer. That will really turn things around.

Albany Lifer - you seem to be copying your ill-informed, vitriolic commentary about the Ten Broeck Triangle, word for word on every article written about this proposal. I am confused - what's your angle here? You clearly don't know much about the Triangle. It's not a high crime area, it is not full of abandoned buildings. Heck, there was an episode of House Hunters filmed here. It's residential currently, and the people who live here are absolutely allowed to have a say when a proposal to change that goes before a zoning appeal board. I am confused why someone would spend so much time posting and re-posting hateful commentary about an area of the city they know so little about.

@Albany Lifer: First, when you write about a neighborhood and the people in it like you just did, you only undermine whatever argument you are trying to make.

Second, by accusing me of hypocrisy you show that you either cannot read or are unable to process what has been written (or fail to comprehend the meaning of the word "hypocrite"). Where did I suggest that a brew pub was a necessity and that it needed to be placed where the church now stands?

What I actually wrote was that it would be a cool location, not a necessary one. The entire debate revolves around what is necessary and what is not; it isn't necessary, and it certainly doesn't seem to be necessary to the people who live there--and they should be the final arbiters of that, as you should be in your neighborhood.

If this were in the Lark Street or Delaware Avenue neighborhoods, this debate probably wouldn't even be happening; if the neighborhood or community or whatever the people who live there were being called indicated they didn't want it, that would be it. If I'm right about that--and I think that I am--the imperious brew-pubber cheerleading squad (Albany Lifer I'm looking your way) would be the real hypocrites.

Ravens Head should talk to the new owner of the old St. Josephs Church in Cohoes. The space is beautiful and they have a huge parking lot!

It's a Mixed Use Zone and their use would be permited.

Cohoes is the place to be and they are great to work with.

The new owners name is Dan O'Neill and his number is 518.477.7900


"Let's put the brew pub right next door to where you live and tell you that it will improve your neighborhood which, by the way, we think is a hell-hole. How might you hear that?"

"BRING IT ON!!!" Center Square could use a brew pub! Not only am I'm all down for competition! I'm down for making this place, just a bit more palatable and exciting. Yeah, maybe I'd have a put up with more crowds on the street, a bit more traffic, and some parking headaches...but hey I realize that I live in C I T Y, and with city living, there are just a few things I have to deal with.

We own 5 buildings on TB. Would love to see this happen

Which 5 buildings? Do you live in one of them?

I know the neighborhood well but wasn't aware that anyone owned 5 properties "on TB." Do you mean TB Street, or the TB Triangle as a whole?

We own 5 buildings on TB street. We used to live in one but moved in August. I say I would love to see the brewery for purely selfish reasons. The parking is ridiculous sometimes. I got a $90 double parked parking ticket today. We own 20tb, 59tb, 75tb,85 &83. My wife and I work on Clinton Ave. I just want to see TB and the surrounding areas prosper and we are putting in a lot of work to make that happen. But maybe a Brewery isn't the answer.

I live in the Triangle across from St. Joe's and for all the reasons listed in this article I have opposed the use. It doesn't make sense. The numbers really don't add up and I think these guys are setting themselves up for failure with this proposal. They need to put A LOT into the building before they can even begin and they have never done anything like this before. They are cable guys with a dream, which is great but there are a lot of variables not being addressed here.

If they take ownership of a 17,000 square foot building and then fail they can do a lot more damage then good.

Say what you will about me and my neighborhood, but if these guys had a solid plan and the experience to back it up, they wouldn't have met much opposition.

But it's not up to residents, the zoning board, the city council, etc. to decide whether a business can succeed or not. Plus, worse case scenario and it doesn't succeed you're right back to where you are now. What bad about that?

Bottom line: there will not be another tax paying business that will put their own money into that church. It will be torn down wihtin five years. These same citizens will whine and moan about the life-threatening hazard in their front yard and will wonder why the government never stepped in to fix it. Pathetic.

Nice work residents. Enjoy watching it crumble.

Andrew over at Keep Albany Boring has a concise piece about the absurdity of blaming 'some residents' for Raven's Head looking elsewhere, he writes:
"Weird that blame continues to be on “some residents”. However an additional $750,000 to simply buy a parking lot for an already expensive building somehow has nothing to do with the concerns starting a brand new business."

Stop pointing fingers, it detracts from the work ahead, raises tensions, and hurts everyone involved. Instead - come up with more workable solutions!

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