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State rejects proposal for brewery at Knox Farm State Park

The lone proposal to open a brewery in the decaying historic stable barns of Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora has been rejected, state officials announced Monday.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation “will reassess and reevaluate the needs for Knox Farm State Park after receiving only one proposal for development and enhancement of the stable barns,” according to a statement released Monday afternoon.

That bid came from Julie Ciolek of Aurora, who proposed producing a small volume of beer and soft cider made from hops and apples grown at the park and selling it only on site.

New York State in June requested proposals for a private partner to invest up to $1 million to improve, repurpose and manage the decaying historic horse barns, stables and other buildings on 80 of the park’s 633 acres in East Aurora. The state sought proposals from companies for a microbrewery, winery or distillery at the former Knox family summer estate.

On July 21, the deadline for bids, the state parks office said it received only Ciolek’s proposal.

Her husband, Lenny Ciolek, the founder of McKenzie’s Hard Cider, told The Buffalo News his wife’s proposal pledged to invest $539,000 in capital projects at the park over three years in return for a 10-year renewable lease. Although they hope to make a profit, Ciolek said they don’t want to turn a beautiful former farm into anything resembling a commercial-looking place.

“We wanted to bring back Knox to a working farm to include crops such as hops, apples, pumpkins, barely and corn,” Julie Ciolek said Monday in an email to The Buffalo News. “What got the community all in a frenzy was the mention of a brewery...The brewing part was less than 10% of what we had proposed.”

“Obviously we are very disappointed that the RFP was pulled as we were prepared to take on the stewardship of the park and provide a civic opportunity of restoration while providing the community of East Aurora, WNY and the state a place to visit and enjoy what life was like when people were forbidden in the kingdom,” she wrote. “We will continue with a modified plan for the park to exclude any brewing and hopeful of executing the main part of our proposal.”

The state had encouraged potential bidders to align their proposals with the state’s Taste NY program, which promotes foods and beverages made in the state.

“State Parks remains interested in revitalizing the historic barns and encouraging equestrian or farm-based activities at Knox Farm State Park,” according to Monday’s statement. “At no time has or will parks structures or land ever be sold to accommodate future proposals. Once a reevaluation occurs all future proposals will be reviewed and thoroughly vetted to ensure that the not only the integrity of the property is maintained but that there is enough of a financial benefit to the taxpayers of New York State.”


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