[caption id="attachment_233657" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Donny Legans is close to opening his dream project, the Rail Haus beer garden with assistance from Dover and state programs. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
DOVER — The Rail Haus beer garden is on target to open at the end of this month, and when it does, it will mark a milestone of a newly-created Downtown Dover Partnership program.The beer garden on North West Street was allocated $300,000 inCritical Improvement Program [CIP] funds, a program launched last fall by the DDP. The state awarded the organization $1.27 million to cover costs in updating downtown properties.For Rail Haus owner Donny Legans, the program made the difference between securing a business loan or waiting even longer to open his dream business.
[caption id="attachment_233660" align="alignleft" width="300"] By mid-September, the Rail Haus was still underway for opening within weeks with a beer garden for fire pits and outdoor long tables. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
“We were working on securing a loan around the time the announcement on this came through. And how it worked is that we had to prove we had a line of income coming in,” Legans said. “The news came at the best time, and the CIP was immensely important in that, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.”Downtown Dover has older buildings that often struggle with significant upgrades before they can open. Major issues that can stymie businesses from opening up are sprinkler systems and ADA improvements for bathrooms, curbs and more. And the Rail Haus was no exception.Legans told the Delaware Business Times that fire sprinklers alone were between $78,000 and $80,000, partially because the regulations changed between design and renovation. He’s also planning to use the Critical Improvement Program to reimburse costs for bathrooms as well as a water line.All told, Legans estimates that Rail Haus is a $3 million project. Costs have gone up since he first started the project due to labor, inflation and supply chain issues. But Legans was able to offset that with a $50,000 state EDGE grant and future reimbursement from the Downtown Development District program.The end result includes a 2,559-square-foot indoor space and a 10,000-square-foot outdoor beer garden, complete with long picnic tables and rail cars imported from Denver. The rail cars are more than decoration: One will serve as a kitchen and the other as a bar with a self-contained beer cooler. Inside the intimate building will be sofas, a large flat-screen and another bar to serve customers. With a spacious lawn, there are hopes for yoga under the stars, gatherings around the fire pit and more.“I’ve always wanted to do something cool like a beer garden. My wife is in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, and Dover was like a weekend home. But then COVID hit and we settled here because the schools reopened faster and property is more affordable,” Legans said. “When I saw all the work from NeighborGood and Habitat For Humanity in this area, I definitely wanted to be part of where the community is going.”
[caption id="attachment_233661" align="alignright" width="300"] The Rail Haus beer garden needed $78,000 in fire sprinkler upgrades, which was covered by a Downtown Dover grant program. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
Legans grew up in Los Angeles and studied at the United States Air Force Academy, and was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. Since he’s traveled all over the country, he has an optimistic view of the commonly discussed issues in downtown Dover like parking and crime. “I feel like with parking issues, it may be more center stage since there’s not much else to talk about. As for crime, that’s an issue everywhere. We’ve had the site open since January and there’s been no issues,” he said. “Our location is perfect, we’ve got all the benefits of being downtown but we’re not on Loockerman. It can be hard to get businesses there because of the code issues, even more than where we are.”As a new board member of the Downtown Dover Partnership, Legans also believes in the value of making a destination spot.“I could have just put tables and umbrellas out and called ourselves a beer garden. And the CIP program helped give me time to look at the best craftsmen to make this a reality,” he said.The Critical Improvement Program is slated to allocate $1.25 million for 10 projects, including Rail Haus. The Fiscal Year 2024 bond bill includes $500,000 to continue the program.
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