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A city design review committee approved plans Tuesday to build a brewery near Robber’s Cave south of 10th and Van Dorn streets.

The Urban Design Committee reviewed the project because the owner of Blue Blood Brewing Co., Brian Podwinski, wants to use tax-increment financing to help fund the project. TIF uses increased property taxes generated by a development to fund bonds to pay for improvements that will benefit the public.

The entire project is expected to cost about $1.5 million, and would qualify for about $100,000 in TIF. Podwinski said TIF would be used to acquire the land and pay for lighting and electrical equipment in the cave.

“This is exciting,” said committee member Michele Tilley.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission will review the project Wednesday, and Podwinski is hoping to complete and open the brewery by August.

His plans to put up a 9,000-square-foot building for the brewery and an expanded taproom and restaurant. He also wants to reopen the cave, which has been closed and sealed up since 2000.

Podwinski says he'll use the cave to store a line of barrel-aged beers Blue Blood makes. Eventually, he'd like to use the cave for events.

“We’re really excited about this project and really want to bring that cave back to life,” he said.

Nearly 150 years ago, a brewery used Robber's Cave to store beer.

In 1869, Lincoln Brewery enlarged it and stored barrels of finished beer and beer-making ingredients there. Workers spent three years digging out the soft Dakota sandstone, eventually making a 5,600-square-foot warehouse space.

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The brewery was sold in 1873 and later went out of business. Since then, beer and Robber's Cave have only gone together in ways most people would prefer not to talk about.

The cave has become a source of local lore, with one oft-told, though unlikely, story holding that outlaw Jesse James visited the cave in the 1870s after going to see his mother in Rulo.

The first time the cave was open to the public was in 1906, when the Scarborough family of Lincoln bought it. It hosted tours and events for decades before the family closed it in 1973 because of vandalism.

It reopened in 1986 and then was sealed in 2000 by current owner, developer Tom White, because of ongoing concerns about safety and trespassing.

Podwinski said he was drawn to the site because of its history of hosting a brewery and also because the Jesse James lore -- true or not -- is a perfect marketing peg for Blue Blood's Outlaw line of small-batch beers.

“We really couldn’t pass it up with the cave being there,” he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJS_Abourezk.

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I'm a Journal Star night editor and father of five.

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