Josh Baehring, Contributing Photographer

A new brewery is slated to open in New Haven this January — but only after fierce debate throughout city government.

On Sept. 29, after hours of debate, the New Haven Board of Zoning Appeals granted Armada Brewing the final approval needed to develop its new property at 190 River St. John Kraszewski, Armada Brewing’s owner, started the company in 2012, brewing beer on his stove and selling to restaurants from his car. Since then, Armada has primarily worked as a distributor, without its own tasting rooms. But now, after facing off against developer Jaigantic Studios for the past few months, Armada is preparing to open a tap room and brewery on River Street. 

“It has always been other people speaking for us, the bars, the restaurants,” Kraszewski told the News. “They are speaking on behalf of Armada… We never got the opportunity to be the direct representation. The plan for River Street is to provide that to our customers and be more in touch with them.”

Kraszewski said that when he was first looking at the River Street property, he heard that a movie studio was looking at the area and was thrilled. 

“We are going to have celebrities in town,” he recalled thinking. “And they can frequent my tap room and drink my beer. I thought it would be really cool if we made a beer with some movie or actor.” 

But the movie studio has worked in opposition to Armada. Jaigantic Studios, founded by actor Michael Jai White, hopes to build a movie production hub, a film district the size of Paramount Pictures in a part of Fair Haven around River Street. According to Jaigantic’s website, the studio plans to build 25 sound stages. 

Jaigantic also describes their mission as intertwined with the success of New Haven — they hope to stimulate “local generational wealth for marginalized communities through employee ownership [and] exponential high-paying job creation,” the website reads. It also lists a number of possible community improvement projects, including green energy initiatives and an outdoor event space. According to Jaigantic’s chief impact officer Jackie Buster, Jaigantic “wants to create a district of growth” and is committed to making it happen. “We are all in for this,” she said at a presentation at a Fair Haven Community Management Team meeting

In response to Jaigantic Studios’ presentation at a Fair Haven Community Management Team meeting over the summer, chair Diane Ecton said that she “was totally impressed.” 

“You guys have taken my breath away just watching this,” Ecton said. “This would definitely be something that would be really great for our neighborhood.”

But at the BZA meeting, as they had done previously, Jaigantic argued that the construction of the brewery would inhibit its plans. Buster said that the potential presence of fans at the brewery might make actors feel uncomfortable. At the Fair Haven Community Management Team meeting, she also said that bargoers might prove a security concern and their cars a logistical one. 

“We are not opposed to any other business trying to be their business,” Buster said. “I think we are more collaborative.” But according to the New Haven Independent, Jaigantic representatives have previously said that their project needs ​​“to have continuous properties unimpeded.” 

According to Kraszewski, the River Street property had been on the market for over a year. “You had the opportunity to rent the facility. You didn’t rent it,” Kraszewski said in reference to Jaigantic. 

Local supporters of Jaigantic also brought a petition to the September BZA meeting, requesting that the city postpone the decision on Armada’s River Street development until Jaigantic, Armada, the city and the community could further negotiate the topic. Ultimately, the BZA rejected this mediation. Notably, according to Kraszewski, Jaigantic has never reached out to him or his team directly. The first time he realized that Armada’s plans for River Street would face opposition was at the Fair Haven CMT meeting.

Despite Jaigantic’s efforts, the BZA voted three to one in Armada’s favor. Kraszewski said he has no grudge against Jaigantic and “looks forward to them coming in.” Jaigantic will be great for the community, he said, and he hopes that Armada will be able to provide Jaigantic’s employees with a destination in the neighborhood. 

“I am going to welcome them to the neighborhood with open arms,” he said. “Unless they want to try to steal my property,” he added, laughing.

Now that Armada has secured its location, Jaigantic and Armada will have to coexist on River Street. Looking forward, Kraszewski described something like the symbiosis he imagined when he first heard that the movies were coming to town.

“When these actors are done working, they want to go out and have beer with the crew,” he said. 

Armada Brewing hopes to open its tap room at 190 River St. in January.

KHUAN HALL