FLEMINGTON – Entrepreneur Jack Cust has purchased the liquor license that once was attached to the Union Hotel and he "is interested in bringing it back to the Main Street area,” says Mayor Phil Greiner, who adds that “the hotel area is the prime developable plot to do that.”
Ever since the Union Hotel closed in 2008, its revitalization has been widely viewed by borough officials as a key to revitalizing Main Street, and a liquor license is widely viewed as crucial to the future success of the Union Hotel.
The hotel and the rest of the block south of the hotel and extending to include the building just across Chorister Place have been declared “an area in need of redevelopment” by Borough Council. Because Matt McPherson and Liam Burns, the owners of the hotel property, have been “de-designated” as the chosen redevelopers, Borough Council is free to designate a new redeveloper.
In the past, this process has entailed issuing a request for proposals. But this time the borough is pinning its hopes on Cust, who has a strong track record in Raritan Township, with such thriving enterprises as Diamond Nation and HealthQuest. The borough is not planning to issue a request for proposals, said Greiner, “since he holds the license and we would not feel it's in our best interests to” look elsewhere.
The mayor said, “We're excited by the possibilities,” and noted that Cust's plans are currently “in the developmental stage.”
Cust isn't ready to discuss his plans, saying via email, “Nothing to update yet. As soon as I have something I will let you know.”
In previous public discussions in Borough Hall, it has been noted that many families of young ballplayers come to Diamond Nation from far away and need overnight accommodations. So some synergy might be achieved if the hotel becomes a hostelry again.
The Union Hotel was built in 1878 and became famous in 1935 when the Lindbergh trial was conducted just across the street. It was declared “an area in need of redevelopment” in 2010. That gives the borough leeway to grant a variety of incentives to its chosen redeveloper.
An LLC owned by McPherson and Burns became the designated redeveloper in 2012. They planned to annex the building next door and create a 50-55 room hotel with a fine restaurant and a pub downstairs. But they lost that designation in 2015 because of a lack of progress.
When the hotel closed in 2008, despite opposition by Borough Council, the owners of the hotel liquor license transferred it to Bensi restaurant in The Shoppes at Flemington. Then McPherson and Burns acquired the restaurant, securing the license for eventual use at the hotel. They renamed the eatery Gallo Rosso, but when that enterprise went bankrupt, the liquor license was sold to Cust. The restaurant has re-opened under new ownership and is called Al Fresco’s.
The hotel property, which is now only one piece of an expanded area in need of redevelopment, is encumbered by a lien and two mortgages – one held by the previous owners and one held by investor Steve Romanowski. The lien was purchased in January by a bank to satisfy the hotel's $56,802.91 property-tax debt.