WESTFIELD — Long-awaited efforts to convert Westfield’s historic train station depot into a restaurant and cocktail bar are still underway after more than two years of negotiations and construction delays. ‘The north-side upgrades will benefit not only the new restaurant, but also future town needs for this building, which has not had any significant upgrades since it was built in 1892,’ Mayor Shelley Brindle said, addressing the topic during a regular meeting of the Westfield Town Council in December. ‘The major repairs required to renovate this historic building, many unanticipated, is a primary reason why the restaurant opening has been delayed.’
Late last year, the town council voted to agree to reimburse the building’s tenants — Maize Cocktails and Cocina — for up to $230,000 in expenditures related to necessary utility connections at the property.
‘The completion of this utility work is the last major upgrade that the train station will need,’ Mayor Brindle said, adding that while the tenants will ultimately be responsible for covering their own utility costs, the town, which owns the property, would need to foot the bill for hookups and connections in order to make the location viable for use as a restaurant.
Several residents criticized the council’s decision to reimburse the utility hookup costs, citing project delays and transparency issues related to the ongoing renovations.
‘The town is going to continue to own and operate this building, so these hook ups are our responsibility. We did ask the utility companies to bring the connections up to the train station building, but we were told they would only bring them to the curb out by North Avenue,’ Town Administrator Jim Gildea said, adding that the station, which once housed ‘minimally-staffed operations’ like the Westfield United Fund, would have needed ‘major upgrades’ even if another tenant had been selected to operate it.
The town submitted an initial Request For Proposal (RFP) back in 2020 in search of someone who would be willing to invest in the property for the purpose of constructing ‘a friendly, casual, local gathering place’ like a “neighborhood bar’ or café at the station.
As an added incentive to potential tenants, the town agreed that it would appeal to the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control for a ‘special concessionaire’s permit,’ which allows for the on-premises sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages on property owned or controlled by a municipality, county or state agency without the need for a traditional liquor license.
The town received two responses in 2021 — one for Maize Cocktails and Cocina (described in a letter of intent as ‘a globally inspired Mexican restaurant and cocktail bar’) and another for a bar/food truck business that would have been called the Roxy Stop Tavern.
In March of 2022, Maize signed a 10-year lease agreement with the town to rent the space for $6,000 per month for the first three years. According to the terms of the lease, the rent will increase by 3 percent each year for the duration of the agreement.
To date, Mayor Brindle said, the new tenants have already invested more than $1 million in the building’s renovations.
The restaurant was initially scheduled to open in late 2022.
Since then, however, pandemic-related construction delays and other challenges — including several pertaining to historic preservation — have gotten in the way.
‘This has been a more detailed project than we initially expected, but we are very excited to see the end results,’ Mayor Brindle said.
Maize Cocktails and Cocina is now expected to open at some point in late spring/early summer of 2024.