By Nikki Lewis
Turnagain Times Correspondent
Bob Waites, an Alaskan entrepreneur, has been finalizing plans and a proposal for a winery/bar in Girdwood for the past year. Back in May, he spoke publicly at a Girdwood Board of Supervisors meeting about his efforts to gain public support for his venture and working to transfer a liquor license from Anchorage to Girdwood.
The GBOS and the Girdwood Land Use Committee gave their support for the winery, something Waites believes would be a strong source of revenue and tourism in downtown Girdwood.
Waites found the perfect property to build his business—a 6,500 square-foot area of land downtown Girdwood behind the Mercantile in two wooded lots at the corner of Girdwood and Holmgren Place. The land is owned by Werner Egloff, and much to Waites surprise, Egloff did not want to sell the lots.
Egloff was contacted by the Turnagain Times but did not want to comment.
And now it appears Waites will have to look elsewhere to build his winery business.
“The hold up on our end was changing from sole proprietor to LLC for tax reasons at the end of the year,” he said, “then we were ready to hand the application to the bank. However, the property owner did not want to get on board.”
The property that Egloff has listed for sale is the only suitable property in Girdwood to house the winery, Waites said. Because of the nature of wineries, septic and water can cause serious complications in construction.
“During primary fermentation a sludge is left over,” Waites said. “This sludge cannot pass through a primary septic tank and must have a separate holding tank.”
Building on property with a private well and septic system makes the construction of the winery very difficult, he said. However, Egloff's lot has city services and possesses the utilities needed to operate a full-time commercially operated winery.
Waites also said the location is ideal because it is a commercial property, located in a high traffic area with great visibility in townsquare.
He said the business would have appealed to both tourists and residents.
“I already have a verbal agreement with five tour companies that would bring busses to the winery year-round.”
It may be an understatement to say that Waites is disappointed not to purchase the Town Square property owned by Egloff.
Waites contacted Egloff Nov. 22, and they discussed his plans for the property and he sent a letter of intent to purchase the property. Egloff told Waites that he wanted to sit on the idea. A few weeks later, on Dec 19, Egloff returned Waites call, telling him that he did not want to sell.
Waites said he never even had a chance to discuss a price for the property and that Egloff offered no explanation for his refusal.
Upon contacting Egloff to discuss his refusal to sell the property, Waites said Egloff declined and provided no further comment.
“My speculation is that he didn't want to see Girdwood develop,” Waites said. “He owns four lots next to the mercantile and he is just sitting on these lots.”
When asked about other properties available in town, Waites said that most of the properties are zoned residential with private septic systems.
Now Waites is looking elsewhere to construct the winery and is still planning on going forward with the project.
However, there is one commercial property in Bird for sale on the Seward Highway, that Waites believes could be an option for building his winery, but he said more investigating needs to be done before any serious offer can be made for the approximately 2.5 acre property.
But Waites said, he is anxious to move forward.
“There are still waste and water issues I need to work out before I invest money in it,” he said. If Waites is able to open his winery in Bird, it will be the eleventh winery to exist in Alaska, utilizing local berries and fruit to brew his unique wines.
Nonetheless he is disappointed in not being able to build his winery in his preferred location in Girdwood.
“I'm regretful that we were not able to acquire the property and develop the winery for the Girdwood community,” he said. “I wish that I could have gotten this to go through because it would have been really good for Girdwood.”